Iraqi Network For Social Media (INSM)
Iraqi Network For Social Media (INSM)
“Yes to free and open Internet for all.. No to the Informatics Crimes Act”
At a time when half of the world lacks access to guidelines on digital security, technology becomes either an ally that enables obtaining information, defending a cause and keeping abreast of the latest scientific development; or on the contrary, a foe that exposes vulnerable individuals and organizations to targeted cyberattacks. There is an unprecedented and ever increasing demand for digital technology, thereby making it a source of both hope and danger. While we witness numerous benefits of technology for our work as well as personal lives, we also face many challenges, such as digital weak spots, cyber threats, violations of human rights and the right to privacy on the Internet.
Who among us did not receive a notification e-mail informing that their account has been hacked?
And who hasn’t fallen victim to cyber blackmail?
Or lost part of their data?
Who among us has not been prosecuted, summoned or harassed over a Facebook post?
Who didn’t have their privacy compromised at virtual arenas?
And who has not followed how human rights defenders and activists were directly threatened or subjected to pressure through weak spots in the digital systems they use?
Digital security is no longer a luxury or merely a piece of information. It has become a way of life, and a necessity for the development of communities.
In view of the above challenges, a group of human rights defenders and digital innovators founded in February 2012 the Iraqi Network For Social Media (INSM); Iraq’s first network of Iraqi bloggers and journalists aiming for advocating digital rights.
These defenders believe in the need for free, open and secure Internet for all, and in creating a virtual space in which freedom of opinion and expression is promoted; where no blogger can be silenced, no website gets blocked, and where the privacy of persons or organizations is not violated.
INSM’s team holds that digital rights are fundamental human rights and constitute a guarantee of creating safe communities, and ensuring that people have access to information, and are enabled to exercise freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet, as should ideally be the case.
The team operates in an environment where digital security is a major concern of defenders and investigative journalists, in view of the repeated attacks of their electronic accounts, which caused “digital safety” to become a priority for them. As a result, they strengthened their international, regional and national partnerships which granted them access to quality expertise.
“Not only should the Internet be more open, secure and accessible to all, but also it ought to be decentralized and free from governmental control in order to avoid blocking operations.”
The campaign tilted #No_to_Internet_Shutdown (during demonstrations)
INSM focused on conducting research that sheds light on some important issues in the digital space, such as a Glossary of Hate Speech and online incitement to commit murder in Iraq. INSM had also led many campaigns, which gained wide support in the region. Iraq experienced a total shutdown of Internet starting at 17:00 on Wednesday, October 2, 2019, a few hours after Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other services were blocked, in the wake of protests and demonstrations calling for improved living conditions, job creation and putting an end to corruption, which were followed by a massive demonstration on October 1 in Baghdad and other cities.
The network called for respect of the rights of citizens and users, and demanded that Internet access in Iraq be restored, and for the authorities to refrain from shutting down the Internet in Kurdistan, considering the enormous economic, social and humanitarian damage these measures cause. INSM also called for signing of a petition titled #No_to_Internet_Shutdown (#لا_لقطع_الاتصالات) because this threatens the safety of Iraqis and impedes their access to emergency services, especially during demonstrations and protests. The shutdown is also a breach of freedom of expression, and facilitates violations.
INSM used all available tools to shape public opinion and influence it towards supporting the campaign, which was backed by 20,195 supporters as of February 1, 2020. The network was also part of the #KeepitOn Coalition that addressed the Iraqi Minister of Communications about keeping the internet service open and secure in the country during the protests, which partially returned, but the service cuts and reinstatement continued until 2020.
The Campaign Against the Informatics Crimes Bill
When the Informatics Crimes Bill was introduced in response to the Arab Spring uprisings which demonstrated the impact of the effective use of virtual platforms and social media in 2011; many defenders viewed it as a threat and a violation of freedom of opinion in Iraq, and considered it a breach of all international standards and basic conventions which Iraq had joined and ratified; since it restricts public liberties, and in particular digital freedoms in the digital space.
INSM spearheaded a campaign to prevent the enactment of the Informatics Crimes Bill due to it threatening digital freedom of expression, and introducing provisions on excessive penalties such as life sentencing and exorbitant fines. The initiative began with “Digital Literacy” courses, which aimed at raising the awareness of Internet users about the consequences this law would have on their digital rights. INSM then invited various stakeholders, including representatives of the legislative, executive and judicial branches, as well as private sectors and Internet users, to join a roundtable discussion of the scope of this Act, and the challenges and impacts it would cause.
INSM’s team members tapped into their collective expertise, and capitalized on their partnerships with local and international actors, in addition to their connections within the Iraqi parliament; in order to lobby the parliamentary blocs that were favorable to enacting the bill with the objective of limiting freedoms. INSM used all social media platforms as tools to connect with the public and keep people informed.
The bill was withdrawn in 2013 from consideration by the Parliament. In 2020, and due to the continuity of the campaign, 15 of the original bill’s 30 articles were omitted, noting that the bill was reintroduced every now and then, especially whenever citizens exercised their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.
“INSM aspires to the enactment of a law that would protect Internet users, as well as their data and opinions. A law that would not enable surveillance nor prosecution because of a blog post. A law that punishes online blackmail, and does not allow impunity.”
“About 4,500 users joined the campaign via our Facebook page back in 2012. The campaign gained significant interaction and its messages were widely shared. The bill had already been withdrawn due to lobbying campaigns in 2013. The efforts of INSM Network were recognized by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) for its successful campaign with this regard.”
Monitoring Violations of Digital Rights
With support from Ushahidi International Organization, renowned for its activist-mapping model; INSM launched a new map documenting human rights violations in Iraq through a digital and interactive tool. The map aimed at involving non-governmental organizations and citizens in reporting instances of violations, then making this information available to the community in a transparent manner, after reviewing and verifying them. INSM believes in the importance of active participation by the public in reporting human rights violations, and the interactive map enabled reporting abuses which people witness in their surroundings. The network strengthened the appropriate channels for the submission of information, which will later be verified by the INSM team, and subsequently disseminated.
INSM: An Action Methodology for a Security Roadmap
Because the future of human rights security is inherently linked to the digital age, INSM identified data that pose a threat to human rights defenders, and constantly published it so that it serves as a key reference in this field.
INSM provides digital security training for human rights defenders, journalists and targeted groups. INSM’s work is not limited to the provision of electronic tools that can be used by defenders and journalists, but also focuses on understanding the threats and challenges they face, and how these can be tackled, for the defenders to operate in a safer setting.
INSM is committed to making digital safety a reality for human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, activists, the civil society and alternative media. INSM aspires to safer communities where dignity and human rights are promoted, and where security and safety are ensured. INSM holds that digital rights are an integral part of inalienable human rights.