A look back at Internet Legislation Atlas in 2016  

Earlier this year, the Internet Legislation Atlas platform was launched with the mandate of mapping freedom of expression and privacy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The ILA assesses and visualizes the level of compliance of selected digital rights laws in seven countries in the MENA region with international human rights standards. The countries under assessment are: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Tunisia.

To this aim, the purposes of the ILA are three-fold:
  1. Increase the accessibility, transparency, and knowledge of the legal framework relevant to digital rights in the region;
  2. Provide a brief assessment of relevant laws vis-à-vis international standards on human rights; and
  3. Present a visual tool for comparative analysis

Since the ILA platform went live, more than 3,800 users have visited the website, generating more than 5,000 new sessions and 6,700 page views. While the platform now has more than 1,300 returning visitors, it continues to attract new visitors – more than 73% of the website’s traffic is comprised of new visitors. Moreover, online outreach is not limited to the ILA platform. ILA is now featured as a source of information for legislation and regulations in the MENA region on the Geneva Internet Platform’s (GIP) Digital Watch Observatory here, the Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO) here, and the Net Data Directory here.

The ILA team has been working on the ground to pitch this tool at regional and global policy fora, share the key findings and recommendations of ILA research, and gather feedback on and how to develop this tool to meet the needs of local communities and stakeholders working at the grassroots level. In this vein, we participated in the cross-regional learning and sharing workshop as well as presented ILA at the projects gallery at the Iran Cyber Dialogue 2016 in San Francisco, California. We organized a workshop at RightsCon, which was held in San Francisco as well, to weigh in on the interplay between human rights and technology in the MENA region, which is also where we officially launched the ILA platform. A session was also organized during iGmena Summit 2016 in Tunis, Tunisia, (see the official press release here) to introduce the project to the MENA community, regional stakeholders, and iGmena’s local and international partners.

ILA was presented as a tool for social change at the annual Freedom Online Coalition conference in San José, Costa Rica, (watch the session video here). Aiming at learning from best practices, ILA was also presented at the second general assembly of the Managing Alternatives for Privacy, Property, and Internet Governance (MAPPING) project in Prague, Czech Republic, which is a similar project that maps Internet legislation and stakeholders in the EU. The last milestone was a workshop at the 11th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Guadalajara, Mexico, to map digital rights in the MENA region and introduce ILA as a new visual tool for comparative analysis. The session aimed to present this new visual tool and mock-up of ILA indicators, which is set to launch in the first quarter of 2017. The tool is a set of qualitative indicators that assesses the domestic legal frameworks regulating the digital space in the MENA region vis-à-vis international human rights standards.

Throughout this outreach, we received positive feedback about ILA, including that it is perceived as an outstanding interactive mapping tool for positive change as well as diplomatic efforts to reinforce online freedom. Special attention was given to this tool by scholars and researchers who appreciated ILA for the crucial information it provides. In addition, many members of civil society as well as civil society organizations value the tool for being licensed under Creative Commons and posited at the disposal of the community to serve various purposes.

In line with the outreach, the ILA team was working on the production and visualization of ILA visual tool, which included testing the indicators and identifying areas that need further clarification as well as parts of the indicators that require additional information so users can plainly understand and apply them. Moreover, we have been also working on incorporating community feedback and recommendations for improvement that we received during the first phase of the ILA platform being live. This includes but not limited to updating the ILA database, developing the platform to be more user-friendly, and enhancing the stability of the platform. Such improvements and web developments would be reflected on the second phase of ILA platform in 2017.

Note that ILA is supported by international and local partners representing the seven focus MENA countries and an advisory board representing different stakeholder groups from the MENA region and beyond. The iGmena team would like to thank these partners and members of the advisory board for their efforts and support for this project during this year.

We also want to extend a special thank you to everyone who has helped make ILA a success this year. We wish everyone a happy New Year, and hope that 2017 can be even more conducive to realizing our goals: helping to make legislation in the MENA region more open and transparent, as well as ensuring digital rights such as freedom of expression online are protected!

Download the high-resolution version of the infographic we created that sums up the outreach conducted for ILA in 2016.