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Centre for Internet and Society joins the Dynamic Coalition for Platform Responsibility

The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) has joined the multistakeholder cooperative engagement amidst stakeholders towards creating Due Diligence Recommendations for online platforms and Model Contractual Provisions to be enshrined in ToS. This blog provides a brief background of the role of dynamic coalitions within the IGF structure, establishes the need for the coalition and provides an update on the action plan and next steps for interested stakeholders.

"Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations."
Tunis Agenda (Para 72.g)

The first United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF), in 2006 saw the emergence of the concept of Dynamic Coalition and a number of coalitions have been established over the years. The IGF is structured to bring together multistakeholder groups to,

"Discuss public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance in order to foster the sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development of the Internet."
Tunis Agenda (Para 72.a)

While IGF workshops allow various stakeholders to jointly analyse "hot topics" or to examine progress that such issues have undertaken since the previous IGF, dynamic coalitions are informal, issue-specific groups comprising members of various stakeholder groups. With no strictures upon the objects, structure or processes of dynamic coalitions claiming association with the IGF, and no formal institutional affiliation, nor any access to the resources of the IGF Secretariat, IGF Dynamic Coalitions allow collaboration of anyone interested in contributing to their discussions. Currently, there are eleven active dynamic coalitions at the IGF and can be divided into three distinct types—networks, working groups and Birds of Feather (BOFs).

Workshops at the IGF are content specific events that, though valuable in informing participants, are limited in their impact by being confined to the launch of a report or by the issues raised within the conference room. The coalitions on the other hand are expected to have a broader function, acting as a coalescing point for interested stakeholders to gather and analyse progress around identified issues and plan next steps. The coalitions can also make recommendations around issues, however, no mechanism has been developed so far, by which the recommendations can be considered by the plenary body. The long-term nature of coalition is perhaps, most suited to engage stakeholders in heterogeneous groups, towards understanding and cooperating around emerging issues and to make recommendations to inform policy making.

Platform Responsibility

Social networks and other interactive online services, give rise to 'cyber-spaces' where individuals gather, express their personalities and exchange information and ideas. The transnational and private nature of such platforms means that they are regulated through contractual provisions enshrined in the platforms' Terms of Service (ToS). The provisions delineated in the ToS not only extend to users in spite of their geographical location, the private decisions undertaken by platform providers in implementing the ToS are not subject to constitutional guarantees framed under national jurisdictions.

While ToS serve as binding agreement online, an absence of binding international rules in this area despite the universal nature of human rights represented is a real challenge, and makes it necessary to engage in a multistakeholder effort to produce model contractual provisions that can be incorporated in ToS. The concept of 'platform responsibility' aims to stimulate behaviour in platform providers to provide intelligible and solid mechanisms, in line with the principles laid out by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and equip platform users with common and easy-to-grasp tools to guarantee the full enjoyment of their human rights online. The utilisation of model contractual provisions in ToS may prove instrumental in fostering trust in online services for content production, use and dissemination, increasing demand of services and ultimately consumer demand may drive the market towards human rights compliant solutions.

The Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility

To nurture a multi-stakeholder endeavour aimed at the elaboration of model contractual-provisions, Mr. Luca Belli, Council of Europe / Université Paris II, Ms Primavera De Filippi, CNRS / Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Mr Nicolo Zingales, Tilburg University / Center for Technology and Society Rio, initiated and facilitated the creation of the Dynamic Coalition on Platform Responsibility (DCPR). DCPR has over fifty individual and organisational members from civil society organisations, academia, private sector organisations and intergovernmental organisations and held its first meeting at the IGF in Istanbul. The meeting began with an overview of the concept of platform responsibility, highlighting relevant initiatives from Council of Europe, Global Network Initiative, Ranking Digital Rights and the Center for Democracy and Technology have undertaken in this regard. Existing issues such as difficulty in comprehension and lack of standardization of redress across rights were raised along with the fundamental lack of due process in terms of transparency across existing mechanisms.

Online platforms compliance to human rights is often framed around the duty of States to protect human rights and often, Internet companies do not sufficient consideration of the effects of their  business practices on users fundamental rights undermining trust.

The meeting focused it efforts with a call to identify issues of process and substance and specific rights and challenges to be addressed by the DCPR. The procedural issues raised concerned  'responsibility' in decision-making e.g., giving users the right to be heard and an effective remedy before an impartial decision-making body, and obtaining their consent for changes in the contractual terms.  The concerns raised around substantive rights such as privacy and freedom of expression eg., disclosure of personal information and content removal and need to promote 'responsibility' through establishing concrete mechanisms to deal with such issues.

It was suggested that concept of responsibility including in case of conflict between different rights could be grounded in Human Rights case law eg., from European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence. It was also established that any framework that would evolve from this coalition would consider the distinction between users (eg., adults, children, and people with or without continuous access to the Internet) and platforms (eg., in terms of size and functionality).

Action Plan

The participants at the DCPR meeting agreed to establish a multistakeholder cooperative engagement amidst stakeholders that will go beyond dialogue and produce concrete proposals. Particularly, participants suggested developing:

  1. Due Diligence Recommendations: Recommendations to online platforms with regard to processes of compliance with internationally agreed human rights standards.
  2. Model Contractual Provisions: Elaboration of a set of principles and provisions protecting platform users’ rights and guaranteeing transparent mechanisms to seek redress in case of violations.

DCPR will ground the development of these frameworks in the preliminary step of compilation of existing projects and initiatives dealing with the analysis of ToS compatibility with human rights  standards. Members, participants and interested stakeholders are invited to highlight and share relevant initiatives by 10th October regarding:

  1. Processes of due diligence for human rights compliance;
  2. The evaluation of ToS cocompliance with human rights standards;

Further to this compilation, a first recommendation draft regarding online platforms' due diligence will be circulated on the mailing list by 30th October 2014. CIS will be contributing to the drafting which will be led and elaborated by the DCPR coordinators. This draft will be open for comments via the DCPR mailing list until 30th November 2014 and we encourage you to sign up to the mailing list (http://lists.platformresponsibility.info/listinfo/dcpr).

A second draft will be developed compiling the comments expressed via the mailing-list and shared for comments by 10 December 2014. The final version of the recommendation will be drafted by 30 December. Subsequently, the first set of model contractual provisions will be elaborated  building upon such recommendation. A call for inputs will be issued in order to gather suggestions on the content of these provisions.

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