The Need for an Internet Public Policy Framework in Iraq

After spending the last 6 months studying and reviewing the Iraqi government institutions performance, I found that most of the internet decisions and policies concerning internet governance were taken according to specific interests, either personal or political.

Many decisions are taken by the highest position either the DGs or the Ministers- without involving any opinions of external IT consultants or public policy advisors or civil society. This form of institutional governance in Iraq affects negatively all the projects invested on upgrading technology policies for end-users. 

The guarantee of a safe and inclusive Internet cyberspace is one of the main issue that Iraq needs to work on and very carefully. It is not only about technology upgrading, personal data sharing and online social media communication used by a wide generation of digital natives, crucially, this is very important for Iraq’s future economic development and its national security.
While we can notice the main enemy of Iraq (EPIS) (Evil People in Iraq and Syria)  is using  the internet to accomplish terrorist operations, communicate  their ideology, share  crime  videos and use the cyber-space as a mean to attract new followers. However the Iraqi government is relying less on modern technology in this online ideological war. 

So, here are a few of my suggestions on what the government should do and is still able to put forward:

-There is a need to create a new cyber-security law that establishes online freedom of expression as a ‘legislative guarantee’ of digital rights for all users, privacy and data protection. The last draft was about to be legislated two years ago but the great effort of my colleagues at INSM (Iraq Network for Social Media) and their unremitting cooperation with the local media and culture committee members of the Iraqi parliament succeeded in stopping this law from being approved. The draft, formulated in 2010,  included shady articles that would have led to life imprisonment and sizable fines for Internet activists, online journalists and general end-users convicted by the government.

-Take serious measures and change public policy procedures in Iraqi main sovereign state institutions. In these difficult times, I think it is necessary for  the security intelligence in Iraq and the ministries that work on security and defense affairs to censor all the content on news, blogs and accounts on all websites and social media platforms due to the security situation in Iraq. But there should be one condition: it should let the user practice online freedom of expression by protecting his/her personal data on the internet.

-The government should cooperate with NGOs, open the doors for external experts consultancy on Internet governance and activists new ideas in this field, and legislate a new law by working side by side with civil society to ensure the advancement of online citizens rights. This can be achieved by organizing training, workshops and capacity building programs for internet policy advocacy at the local school and universities with practical case studies so as to be able to implement concepts and theories in concrete policy advocacy framework. 

-One of the duties of governments is to involve civil society and facilitate its engagement in making decisions related to internet policy, as well as increase citizens awareness of their rights related to the internet.

-As one of the rich nations selling four million barrels of oil per day and as a developing country with a fast growing economy, the government should encourage e-government projects. It is not only about economic consolidation, but about the daily life of citizens when they follow up on their papers, personal legal documents at ministries or governmental institutions. 

-The government should promote and consider the work of young Iraqi entrepreneurs, like the project called “Mu3amala”, a website that helps the user to follow up and finalize his/her application to obtain a driving license, passports or applying for universities...etc. The government should cooperate with such initiative as it can be used to make life easier for Iraqis and reduce institutional corruption to be able to upgrade its services for citizens.

-Regarding the e-government project, the government should use emails and the intranet in their official letters and communications between ministries and local governments. It should also establish education centers to instruct people on how to safely use the Internet and computers, especially in the remote villages and towns.

-Investing in the internet sector ( broadband connection) especially on infrastructure and specific technical material. Iraq needs to strengthen its network connections with a high-speed one that can secure nationwide internet reach. The Iraqi government should invest in all  internet services, such as replacing the poor copper connections with modern ones,  develop ISP operators and electricity power generators.

-Enhance International Cooperation.International cooperation should focus on security as a priority. The government needs to build strategic agreements with the neighboring countries to eliminate espionage and cyber warfare. International cooperation can also be used to develop the optical fiber project, which connects countries bordering Iraq with the outside world.

-Other international cooperation should be in coordination with INGOs which can help Iraq with all the suggestions that I have mentioned above. Plus, a cooperation with the UNESCO could promote digital and technology education programs and the use of Arabic language (as it is one of the main languages in Iraq).

-The term EPIS means the "Evil People in Iraq and Syria", which I rather call the terrorist group that is destroying the civilizations of two countries. Most of the people know them as ISIS, but I do not recognize them as an Islamic state because they do not promote nor represent Islam.

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Ali Al Makhzomy (Iraq) is a cultural activist and a researcher of public policy. He studied politics and law in Baghdad and has a passion for working on cultural heritage projects. He is the  founder of Iraqi Culture Day Initiative, Co-Founder of Baghdad Choir and a member of INSM. Ali Makhzomy Participated in Social media and mass communication summer course at Virginia Commonwealth University - USA and has been with IGMENA since mid-2014.