Digital Rights in Southeast Asia - Conceptual Framework and Movement Building

— 5 minute read

Earlier this year I participated in a book project by SHAPE-SEA which commissioned authors from around the region to look at the human rights impacts of technology in Southeast Asia. Exploring the Nexus Between Technologies and Human Rights: Opportunities and Challenges in Southeast Asia, edited by Khoo Ying Hooi and Deasy Simandjuntak, was launched in December 2019.

Book Cover

About the paper permalink

My paper, "Digital Rights in Southeast Asia: Conceptual Framework and Movement Building", is Chapter Two :) Here's the abstract of the paper:

This chapter builds a conceptual framework for digital rights by drawing from digital rights advocates in Southeast Asia, and provides a snapshot of the digital rights movement in the region through the advocates’ areas of work, challenges faced, and recommendations for advancing the movement. The conceptual framework proposes four spheres of digital rights, as follows: 1) conventional rights translated to digital spaces, 2) data-centred rights, 3) rights to access to digital spaces and services, and 4) rights to participate in the governance of the digital or the Internet. Empirical observation of the digital rights movement in Southeast Asia reveals that most work has been done on conventional rights translated to digital spaces. The lack of technical capacity is a major gap in addressing digital rights violations that require a deeper understanding of how the technology functions.

Thanks to SHAPE-SEA's policy on open access, the book can be downloaded with no charge. Here is the chapter itself in a separate PDF. And also, as I had been presenting the research at various forums, here's a PPT of the gist of the findings.

Research communication permalink

After the completion of the study, even before the launch of the publication, I inadvertently went on a tour of sorts to talk about the findings. It just so happened that there were many events connected to digital rights towards the end of the year, and so I found myself bouncing from event to event, including the following:

  1. Manila, Oct 20-26 - COCONET 2, a camp for Digital Rights activists in Southeast Asia organised by EngageMedia and the Association for Progressive Communication (APC)
  2. Singapore, Nov 4 - Digital Asia Hub convened a "Blue Skies and Brainstorms" session to talk about the data and digital rights space in Asia, and I was invited as one of the participants.
  3. Cyberjaya, Nov 5-10 - Digital Rights Awareness Week (DRAW) organised by The IO Foundation with support from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), I was there as a panellist for the seminar for policymakers and a trainer (on human rights, for techies) for their Tech Up! training workshops.
  4. Kuala Lumpur, Nov 14-16 - Imagine a Feminist Internet Southeast Asia Workshop, organised by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) and EMPOWER Malaysia.
  5. Bangkok, Dec 3-4 - The event where the book was launched! SHAPE-SEA organised a research colloquium and officially launched two books: “Human Rights in Southeast Asia Outlook 2019” and “Exploring the Nexus Between Technologies and Human Rights: Opportunities and Challenges in Southeast Asia”. I was there as an author and presented my research in one of the panels.
  6. Bali, Dec 8-10 - the AICHR Consultation on Freedom of Opinion and Expression (FOE) in ASEAN was held in Bali and I spoke on the panel of "Human Rights in Digital Age: New Spaces, Implications, Opportunities and the Challenges"

I must say that there were times within that period when I thought that my mind would never catch up with where my body was, as I was always trying to process the last event when being in the next. While it was rewarding to be able to talk to so many different stakeholders - from activists, policymakers, techies, to academics - the introvert in me was also gasping for a moment of respite. Between travel, work deadlines and some personal incidents that happened during the period, I was close to burning out and breathed a huge sigh of relief when things finally calmed down towards mid-December.

What's next? permalink

As the paper had not been launched when I met most of the people that I met the last couple of months, I had been (and still am) building a list of interested people to reach out to when the paper was ready. That's probably going to be one of the first things that I'll have to do in the new year, also to spread the word that I'm looking for more projects and collaborations on digital rights.

At the moment I'm working on a series of articles on artificial intelligence in Southeast Asia (with EngageMedia) which will keep me occupied the next couple of months; there are also a number of other potential jobs and applications to work on. So far the year ahead looks promising. Let's see!