My project at the Berkman Center

                             Internet regulations and users' righs in the Runet 


Key words: Internet access, privacy and security, security, surveillance, transparency, freedom of expression, users’ rights, Internet laws and regulations, multistakeholder engagement, government-users conflict, civil society, Runet.

 

My research goal is to investigate the decision-making processes of internet regulations in Russian government; evaluate the effects of Internet regulation initiatives on Russian internet users, suggest ways to resolve Government-Users’ communication conflict in the Runet, suggest a more efficient model of multistakeholder engagement to establish a successful dialogue between government, corporations, NGOs, media and users.

 

State of the problem:

Russia is currently going through a period of rapidly-changing and largely restrictive Internet policies, influenced by an increasingly authoritarian political context. Internet laws and regulations issued in the period of 2012-2014 (The Internet Restriction Bill, defining “blacklisted” websites in Runet; The Child Protection Law; two amendments to the Anti-Piracy Law; Anti-extremism law, Law on bloggers and others) were enacted without discussion, and many ways damage public and corporate interests, paralyzing the work of local IT sector.

 

As our previous research have shown (“Global Internet Policy Project” with Internews (2013); “Ranking Digital Rights” project with New America Foundation (2013-2014); “Fostering Freedom Online” Internet Intermediaries research for UNESCO (2014);  Russian companies, users and Internet associations are challenged to comply with rapidly-changing  legal standards. Today’s Runet players are very limited in their options aimed at affecting the rules of the game. In most cases they have no alternative as to comply with government demands, wondering whether the governmental road map for Internet regulations will eventually lead to Runet shutdown.

 

Users’ rights are of little concern in an environment dominated by governmental restrictive policies and corporate goals to quickly ‘monetize ’their Internet services.

Transparency of communication with users on many important issues, including corporate agreements with government, is dramatically lacking. 

Instead of being hidden, these issues should be highlighted, in order to engage the Russian public and internet users in the dialogue with government and create a more efficient model of multi-stakeholder engagement in decision making on Internet policies and regulations.

 

In fact Russia has a very short practice of applying Human Rights standards to Internet regulations.  It is absolutely clear that today both the Russian government and Russian Internet corporations need more education and knowledge on how the basic principles of human rights can be applied to the Internet space. The government needs to be educated and informed about specific technical issues on how the Internet operates while Internet companies need to be educated on International human rights standards and principles, as well as users’ rights. Learning from the best examples of international practice can facilitate this conversation. The international community can encourage Internet corporations to be more open and accessible to their customers, to develop interaction mechanisms with their users and to consider users’ interests and suggestions with regard to corporate and governmental policy.

 

To achieve better understanding of each others’ interests and needs, an open dialogue between government, users, Internet corporations & associations should be established. Clear mechanisms, principles and procedures of public-corporate-government communication should be developed. These efforts should be aimed at creating better standards with regards to privacy, security, and surveillance issues. 

 

The integration of Russian Government representatives, scholars, NGOs representing the public interest and Internet companies in international discussions and collaborations on human rights should become a priority. 

Increasing transparency, disclosure of relevant information and users’ education of on the rights and freedoms and International Internet policies and Human Rights standards can help Russian Internet stakeholders in making the Internet a better space of free expression, open opportunities and mutual respect.

 

Research methodology:

·        Monitoring and analysis of governmental initiatives and reactions to it in Runet.

·        Case study of online communication in Runet as reactions to certain Internet regulation initiatives.

·        Surveys with Internet users and Internet companies to gain an overview of their understanding of users’ rights, perceptions of governmental initiatives and decision making processes, perspectives on users’ rights and suggestions for establishing effective communication  mechanisms with the government, promoting users’ engagement in decision making processes.

·        Interviews with governmental representatives and decision makers to investigate government decision making processes, their knowledge and perceptions of the Internet and users in Runet

·        Evaluation of government decision making processes using decision making evaluation model, which will be designed in the course of this research.

·        Interviews with Stakeholders, Russian NGOs, and Internet associations to develop recommendations on establishing a dialogue between the Government, Corporations and Users.

 

Expected Results:

·        Research will describe the current state of government –users dialogue in Runet (highlighting major conflict points) and follow the chronology of  recent governmental initiatives on Internet regulations in Russia

·        Research will help to better understand the Russian government’s Internet initiatives and their decision-making mechanisms and processes.

·        Will investigate major problems and challenges in communications between the government, stakeholders and Internet users in Runet.

·        Will highlight existing opportunities for establishing government-Internet users’ dialogue, suggesting starting points and promoting free communication in Runet.

·        Research will overview the dynamics of the development of  Russian Internet law from a global perspective and highlight Russia-specific trends in it.

·        A comparison of  US and Russian Internet policies and legal standards will be performed. Similarities and differences in major problems and challenges of Internet regulations will be described. Opportunities for transferring better international regulatory practices will be suggested.

 

Research impact:

·        Research will provide objective feedback to the Russian government, corporations and citizens concerning the current state of Internet regulations and users’ rights in Runet; will highlight major points of disagreement and reasons of misunderstanding.

·        Research will provide information to Russian and global Internet users on how governmental decisions on Internet regulation initiatives are made, what are the mechanisms and procedures of this process, and what are the determinants for these decisions.

·        Research will suggest solutions for developing government – citizen dialogue and ways to engage other stakeholders in that dialogue in current Internet environment.

·        Research will provide recommendations for developing mechanisms, policies and practices for representing users’ rights in Runet.

·        The project will engage key stakeholders (Internet associations, Internet market players, NGOs and human rights organizations) in communications on promoting and developing users’ rights in Russia through:

-   Offering education  and consulting opportunities, based on best global practices of Internet regulations for the Russian government;

-   Elaborating mechanisms and procedures for assessments of government decisions and providing feedback on governmental initiatives from users;

-   Initiating and facilitating government –users dialogue in Runet;

-   Organizing conferences, round tables and discussions on government-users dialogue and users’ rights in Runet;

 

Project outcome:

·        A web site and a blog will be developed to highlight the projects’ main steps and report about research progress.

·        Upon the submission of this project, a research report will be issued, articles and scientific papers will be published.

·        A number of events (discussions and conferences) devoted to Internet law and governance in Russia and the US will be organized.

·        Recommendations for Russian law makers describing best world practices of multistakeholder engagement models will be developed.


Project terms:  September 2014 – September 2015.


Who will benefit: Civil society, Internet users, Internet companies and associations, media, NGOs, human rights organizations, bloggers and activists, Russian citizens, local authorities & government, International experts and researchers.