Sure, we respect human rights! Don't we?
In 2015/2016, SIDN was actively involved in redesigning ICANN’s accountability framework. One issue that came up was whether ICANN should declare its support for human rights. We couldn't see the point at first. Doesn't it go without saying that ICANN respects human rights? Doesn't everyone have to?
SIDN accepts the challenge
In the ICANN debate, the idea of a declaration was championed by Dutchman Niels ten Oever from the human rights campaign group Article 19. After persuading ICANN to include a commitment to human rights in its constitution, Niels challenged us to consider whether SIDN was doing enough in this field. And we accepted that challenge.
Human rights impact assessment for registries
Support for human rights can be measured by doing human rights impact assessments (HRIAs). Various assessment methods have been developed, each tailored to a particular sector. But, before we got involved, there wasn't one for domain name registries. So Article 19 suggested that we team up with them and the Danish Human Rights Institute to do something about that. The Danish organisation's involvement was proposed because they had already designed and implemented assessment methods for several other sectors.
We took up the idea and, a year on, the first version of the domain registry HRIA was good to go. We have since used it to gauge our organisation's impact in the field of human rights.
Human rights impact awareness
The HRIA model consists of a series of questions about upholding particular human rights in particular situations, aimed at building a picture of the organisation's impact. For instance, it addresses the rights of SIDN staff and the conditions we ask suppliers to meet. It also covers issues linked specifically to our registry activities, such as privacy protection in the context of the personal data publication via the Whois. Another important dimension is the free-speech implications of, for example, disabling domain names. First and foremost, an organisation like ours needs to recognise the potential of its activities to impact on human rights. Once you've done that, you can put procedures in place to ensure that any negative impact is kept to the minimum.
Assessment offers a fresh perspective
SIDN came out of the assessment well. The findings indicate that we are respecting human rights in all the relevant fields. That's partly because we operate under Dutch law, which has many human rights safeguards. But there are internal reasons too. Such as the way we consider the effects of our processes and procedures. And the fact that people can appeal against our decisions. No organisation is perfect, though. One improvement suggested for SIDN was publishing an annual transparency report, detailing things such as how many domain names we have disabled over the previous twelve months. It's an idea we're already looking into. Whatever we decide on that point, it's clear that the HRIA has been a valuable exercise. Reviewing the human rights implications of our activities has given us a fresh perspective on our work. In light of what we've learned, we would certainly recommend HRIA to other registries. And we'll definitely draw on the assessment findings in our future decision-making.