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Asia Centre hosts regional meeting on digital rights



Civil society organizations (CSOs) across Asia discussed ideas on how to unite as a collective force to advocate for digital rights, enhance their influence and forge a unified front to respond to legal and technological challenges that impact their work.

Convened by Asia Centre with the support of Google, the Regional Meeting on Digital Rights was held in Bangkok, Thailand from 22 to 23 February 2024, the meeting brought together 25 participants and included representatives from Article 19, BPSOS, Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), Campaign, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Digital Rights Nepal., DAKILA and Active Vista Center, Hashtag Generation, Indika Foundation, International IDEA, JANIC, Kalyanamitra, The Online Citizen, Open Development Mekong,  SAFEnet, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights and Vietnam Rise.

In his opening remarks, Dr. James Gomez, Regional Director of Asia Centre, said the CSOs present had a unique opportunity to pool their resources and expertise to achieve economies of scale. In particular, he suggested a CSO-to-CSO model of cooperation that could extend the reach of their work while leveraging on their limited resources.

On the first day, there were 2 panel discussions and a workshop on online regulations in the Asia-Pacific.

The first session, titled “What are CSOs? Do They Need Assistance?”, provided a platform for participants to share their perceptions of CSOs and exchange ideas on economic models that could work to keep their organisations running. It was agreed that CSOs require financial support and access to policymakers and technology companies, while also possessing proficiency and experience in advocating for digital rights.

During the second session, “Spotlight: 2024 Indonesian General Election,” participants from Indonesia shared insights from the recent general election, highlighting the pervasive use of digital AI tools by presidential candidates to sway voters. The discussion underscored the need for regulations as well as media literacy to address the proliferation of AI-generated content, including deep fake videos, chatbots, and images, in political campaigns. The pivotal role of platforms and engagement with them was also emphasised.

The first day concluded with a presentation of Asia Centre’s latest report, “Online Content Regulations in the Asia-Pacific,” by Dr. Marc Piñol Rovira, Research Manager of Asia Centre. The report examined laws enacted by governments in the region to regulate online content, highlighting their impact on civil society’s ability to hold governments accountable. Subsequent group discussions allowed participants to share country-specific insights and experiences.

The second day built on the first day with a session on “Strategies to Address Online Content Regulation.,” During the session, participants deliberated on the legitimacy of restrictive regulations and how negative dimensions of the internet can be mitigated without compromising freedom of expression. Panelists shared success stories of constructive engagement with stakeholders and the implementation of sustainable actions to tackle online challenges.

In the closing segment of the second day, participants showcased their organisations’ activities related to digital rights, identifying areas for CSO-to-CSO collaboration and resource exchange. Asia Centre extended invitations for participants to speak at future sessions of the Digital Rights Programme for CSOs announced an upcoming digital security training initiative aimed at individuals at risk, including HRDs, their families, and politicians. The upcoming online sessions of the Digital Rights Programme for CSOs in 2024 will cover topics on Fact-CheckingMedia Information LiteracySurveillance & PrivacyForeign-Interference and Artificial-Intelligence.

In his closing remarks, Dr.Gomez recognised the support from Google and reiterated that a robust network and concerted efforts among CSOs in the region would enhance their capacity and promote digital rights effectively.

To watch the highlights of the meeting, click here.

Asia Centre is a civil society research institute in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. It serves as a knowledge partner and undertakes evidence-based research as well as provides capacity-building training for end beneficiaries. If you would like to collaborate with the Centre, please send an expression of interest to [email protected].

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