SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Digital Rights Awareness in Lebanon

Thursday , 31 December 2020

Since 2007, the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) has been monitoring all forms of violations of freedom of expression in the Levant in general, and in Lebanon in particular. This monitoring has covered conventional forms of violations, such as killings, arrests, unlawful detentions, undue judiciary actions, restrictive legislations, and harassment. Over the years, the monitoring has included additional challenges to freedom of expression related to economic levers affecting the independence of media actors and technological advances that affect people’s privacy and right to access information.

SKF’s first assumption is that effective advocacy to protect digital rights in Lebanon has to go beyond the expected circle of human rights NGOs. Building on the “nothing about us without us” principle, SKF launched the Digital Rights as Human Rights (DRHR) to understand the level of awareness of several key segments of the general public of digital rights in general and their own digital rights in particular as a pre-requisite for any successful, subsequent campaign.

To this end, SKF has selected six pilot segments of the Lebanese population to assess their level of awareness and understanding of the concept of digital rights: journalists, lawyers, school teachers, university students, physicians (medical doctors), and technology professionals. SKF surveyed and organized a series of focus group discussions with representatives of the aforementioned groups.

This study has determined, in a fundamental and substantiated manner, a growing interest in digital affairs. However, it has also shown that individuals do not adopt technical and legal controls to protect their privacy and ensure their safety. Their awareness of the dangers arising from their unrestricted activity in the digital space is limited, even among some working in the technology field. The study also demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the legal procedures available to guarantee their safety and privacy, which may win them their rights in the event they suffer violations.

SKF’s report showed the impact of the absence of effective laws governing personal and professional practices in the digital space on the private and professional lives of individuals, and on the behavior of professional groups. In the absence of these laws, there is no guarantee of the propriety of professionals’ practices vis-à-vis those benefiting from their services. Neither does anything shield people from the harm they may be exposed to as a result of lawlessness, nor help them obtain their rights in the event of any harm.

The study also highlighted a general conviction that, at the time of writing this report, Lebanon’s official authorities play no role in enforcing the digital rights of citizens. Aside from surveillance practices focused on closely monitoring the behavior of individuals on social media networks, carried out by security agencies, the Lebanese state does nothing to strengthen the digital rights of citizens, despite demands from all kinds of professional groups and individuals that it do so, by preparing, approving, and enforcing relevant regulations.

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