Theme of the Palestine Digital Activism Forum 2020
Palestinians are being pushed and pulled to digitize many aspects of their lives. Yet Palestine and Palestinians lack many of the basic laws that could ensure that digitalization does not lead to further violations of their digital rights and human rights: the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to political assembly, among others. From March 23 – 27th 2020, 7amleh and dozens of local and international members of civil society, the public and private sector, as well as activists, journalists, technologists, engineers and digital experts will come together under the theme: “Digitizing Palestine – Between Threats and Opportunities”. Through a series of panels, roundtables, workshops and other activities the participants raise awareness about the need for digital rights and human rights to be an integral part of the digitalization process in Palestine.
The trend of digitization of governments and states is no longer a question of acceptance or rejection, but rather a question of how quick and slow in providing the right elements and environment to further digitize communities and their public and private services. Digitization promises a space that saves money and effort and everyone can share their experiences and interactions instantly, from using your credit card, distributing likes, sharing pictures, locating your health status, paying taxes and completing government and private transactions digitally. In light of all this progress and the need for digitization, we need to be careful to bring digital rights, which constitute a natural extension of human rights in cyberspace, into line with this development to protect the right to privacy and all other rights. On the Palestinian level, the issue of digitization is further complicated by the fact the dimensions and different aspects do not resemble any other context in the world.
Since the beginning of the third millennium, a generation has emerged in an age in which the Internet was a reality and a fundamental component of daily life. The world is connected and moving at a faster pace. Consequently, the expectations of service delivery and experience are increasing more rapidly, from working methods to the services used and the places where citizens live. Digital technologies are a new era of citizen behavior. For example, since 1997, Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, has been striving to transform their entire government services into electronic systems. While they are promoting it as a global model, they are ignoring problems such as digital wars or privacy issues, as the Estonian public and their digital data are subject to violations and theft from different parties. Can Palestine adopt this Estonian model in the digitization of its governments and private sectors? How does the system of colonialism and Apartheid affect the digitization of Palestine? What is the fate of Palestinian user data? How will the Palestinian government impose its influence in the digital space in light of its inability to impose its full influence on the ground as a geographical area? Such issues must have priority for a people living under occupation.
The Internet in general, and social media in particular, are being adapted as tools used by governments and private actors around the world to manipulate democracy, thus necessitating the adoption of a set of directives, laws and legislation for technological advancements. The right to protection of digital data belongs to users, even within countries whose constitutions do not directly provide obligations to protect privacy. In July 2017, the Palestinian Authority approved the Cybercrime Law, which was quickly rejected by stakeholders, including civil society organizations, human rights organizations, activists, journalists, and others. International treaties to which Palestine has previously acceded, in particular the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, as a result of the vague provisions and loosely defined terms of this law, can cause confusion and uncertainty when interpreting its articles. While the Palestinian government has succumbed to societal pressure and amended the law the following year, the law continues to violate digital rights and gives misplaced powers to judicial authorities. Activists, human rights and digital rights defenders, and related institutions continue to demand that its articles be adapted to international law. Will the government give up its dictatorial approach imposed through this law in favor of the victory of digital rights and human rights?
In the rapidly growing technological revolution, the issue of “privacy” has become complex and sometimes unclear. Most of our day-to-day transactions are digital. ID cards are digital data, registered with government institutions, through which our personal identities are inferred. Customers can book restaurants online, arrange travels, book airline tickets, pay bills and so forth. All of these services and facilities are digital and electronic transactions, made by writing a set of personal data on the applications of those sites in a way that enables us to infer our identity to access the required service. On the other hand, modern technologies contribute more to the gathering of finer details by analyzing big data, like digital practices of the public, so that they can draw conclusions about the identity of the intended person.
But it doesn’t just stop at this technical level. The question that arises constantly, is: What is the fate of digital data for citizens? Who will have access to it? Where will the government keep and store it? For how long will it be stored? Is there any guarantee that the government will not use the data to prosecute citizens? How does the government inform the citizens to implement an effective digital system and is there enough societal awareness on online privacy rights to digitize today? Addressing these and other questions seeks to raise the main issue: Do we sacrifice our privacy on the Internet in exchange for maintaining security, progress and an efficient system?