Tools to Understand the Legal Aspects of the ICT Ecosystem: the CYRILLA Collaborative and the CLFR, by Nerissa Naidoo (SMEX/CYRILLA)
As rapid developments in technology revolutionize our interactions with each other and the world, established fundamental rights, like freedom of expression and privacy, take on different, but no less significant, characters in the digital realm: censorship can be a simple social media policy, and surveillance has traded in binoculars for browser cookies. It’s imperative that these rights — these digital rights — are still protected, and that the national laws which protect them are directed at this objective, because although the possibilities are greater, so are the vulnerabilities.
But technology as regulatory concern can be vexing for human rights activists and even the most attuned policymakers. As governments scramble to bring dynamic technological advancements under their control, some countries enact laws that display a lack of awareness of technical architecture, while others apply or bend analog laws, some of which are already inconsistent with international law, to digital spaces. The result is that digital regulation is inconsistent across jurisdictions, and its subjects often lack an appreciation of the impact it has on their lives. Not only does this threaten fundamental human rights online, but it can be most harmful to the activists and researchers working to defend them.
At its core, CYRILLA addresses this obstacle by organizing and making accessible the world’s digital rights-related laws, cases, and analyses on its open database, which boasts legal resources from more than 140 countries. CYRILLA empowers researchers, journalists, civil society advocates, legal professionals, and human rights defenders to more readily assess legal trends as they shape and impact digitally-networked spaces. The aggregation of this data could potentially highlight threats to human rights online and reveal opportunities for legal reform. To supplement its extensive collection, CYRILLA has included the Global Network Initiative’s (GNI) Country Legal Frameworks Resource (CLFR) reports under its Analysis Section.
The CLFR helps shed light on governments’ legal authorities to compel information and communications technology (ICT) companies to restrict access to communications services and/or content or share users’ data. This form of digital regulation warrants particular scrutiny for the potential risk to ICT users’ rights. With reports on legal frameworks in over fifty countries, the CLFR also demonstrates the challenges some ICT companies may face in honoring their international human rights responsibilities and commitments when these domestic legal frameworks authorize disproportionate restrictions or lack uniform interpretation. The CLFR reports use a shared methodology to group the pertinent laws, regulations, and policies into six categories:
1) compelling companies to allow interception of customers’ communications;
2) mandating disclosure of non-content communications data;
3) enhanced disclosure or interception requirements for national security or emergency purposes;
4) censorship-related powers, including powers to order ICT companies to block or restrict access to networks, services, and/or websites;
5) oversight of powers pertaining to access to user data; and
6) oversight of censorship-related powers.
The new and improved CLFR web tool allows users to view and compare up to four reports at once, to navigate between categories, and even to download the entire resource in CSV, allowing for better integration with other actors researching digital rights-related legislation like CYRILLA.
This integration enhances the capabilities of both resources. Via the CYRILLA database, researchers can find original laws and regulations referenced in CLFR analysis, and CYRILLA visitors can supplement their reviews of digital rights-related laws and regulations to see how they might be interpreted in practice using the CLFR. The CYRILLA database also links to pertinent case law, as well as draft legislation and legal provisions, helping showcase the implications of or potential real-world shifts in CLFR analysis. These features are particularly helpful with regard to laws permitting interception and censorship for the seemingly-narrow purposes of national security threats or emergencies, a focus of the CLFR. And CYRILLA users can take a bigger-picture view, searching for country-specific data, or by keywords which cover a variety of pressing digital rights issues, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and privacy.
Digital rights advocates, human rights experts, researchers, and ICT companies alike have stressed that documenting the development and application of digital rights-related laws is critical to both keeping users’ around the world informed on their digital rights and ensuring policymakers protect these rights. Both the CLFR and CYRILLA are committed to this aim, especially in regions where information is not always readily accessible, like Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. Together we hope to enable the research and advocacy required to understand the legal realities that exist and identify problematic trends that need to be curtailed. These tools are a step towards responsible, transparent digital regulation, and, ultimately, stronger digital communities.