11 February 2014

IMMI – Icelandic grassroots innovation to legislation

By Päivikki Karhula

Increased Internet censorship and surveillance has been an emerging trend over the last decade. Since the leaks of Edward Snowden last summer, the global dimensions and potential of ubiquitous surveillance have become evident to the global public. Users’ increasing vulnerability as a target of surveillance and possible intrusion to their Internet privacy has led to various reactions globally including collaborative projects among NGOs and civil society movements and political responses, while at the same time opening up new business opportunities to technology companies.  

Since 2009 a significant response to the narrowing space and rights in the digital environment has been slowly developing in Iceland in the form of the IMMI-legislative initiative. IMMI (Icelandic Modern Media Initiative) represents a significant and unique legislative approach which aims at improving state of freedom of information highlighting especially rights of journalists, publishers and bloggers.

In August 2013 I travelled to Iceland to meet Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Icelandic politician, writer and activist, who calls herself as a poetician. Jónsdóttir has been working on the IMMI legislative initiate from its early beginning. In the video interview avbove she describes the ideological background of the IMMI-initiative and the progress of this grassroots approach as a national legislation.

Crowdsourcing legislation

IMMI introduces a radical, courageous and innovative approach to compile legislation, which is worthwhile to consider carefully as a way to respond to the challenges of networked information environment.

It is based on international crowd sourcing. Journalists, lawyers and activists have co-operated in the gathering of documents and ideas as a basis for the legislative initiative. Basically, the core idea of this legislation was to study and combine best practices and juridical models to protect freedom of speech in Iceland. Firstly, IMMI aimed at recognizing and defining the major problem areas related to current state of freedom of speech - and ended up proposing juridical solutions to all of these areas

Best freedom of information legislation in the world

In essence, IMMI is a legislative initiative processed by the Icelandic government to change a wide range of freedom of speech related laws and  adjust them to the best  possible legislative approaches in the world. IMMI has taken as an ambitious goal to represent the best legislation in the world regarding freedom of information. The ultra-modern approach to a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act is based on 2009 CoE (Council of Europe) and OAS (Organization of American States) recommendations and also utilizes modern elements of the FOI laws of Estonia, Scotland, the UK and Norway as well as the Aarhus Convention.

IMMI legislation focuses on several specific fields related to freedom of information including  whistleblower protection, source protection, communication protection between source and journalist, protection of intermediaries, protection against "libel tourism" and other extrajudicial abuses and a statute of limitations on publishing liabilities. Many of these mentioned fields have previously caused problems to journalists, writers and bloggers on the Internet.

New vulnerabilities

Listening to Birgitta Jónsdóttir we hear a lesson about new conditions of internet censorship which are not evident for an average Internet user. If source protection cannot be guaranteed then the leaking of illegal activities may pose sources too much threat and silence them. So, the setting of legislative protections and infrastructures in relation to publishing may impact on the quality of information we can access. Censorship on this level is invisible and unrecognizable for users.

Libel tourism is another condition which is not very well known to the public. Journalists, publishers and bloggers have occasionally become threatened by juridical abuses, when private companies make arbitrary lawsuits by accusing writers of making derogatory statements. IMMI-legislation aims at improving publishers and writers’ position in relation to these conditions.

Since the IMMI project originally had connections with Wikileaks, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, ended up herself as a target of NSA investigation. Even though she is a lawmaker her position did not protect her: she experienced herself what it practically means when you become a target of extreme detailed and intrusive data surveillance and investigations. As much as this event was an unpleasant condition, her description of this process thoroughly draws a picture of new vulnerabilities in relation to the powerful authorities and their global surveillance capabilities in the digital environment.

Päivikki Karhula
Member of FAIFE committee
Paivikki.karhula@gmx.com

FAIFE (Committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression), Access to information, Censorship, Freedom of information, Surveillance

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