Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group N. ten Oever
Internet-Draft University of Amsterdam
Intended status: Informational G. Perez de Acha
Expires: August 23, 2019 Derechos Digitales
February 19, 2019

Freedom of Association on the Internet


This document establishes the causal link between the Internet architecture and the ability of people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly and association online. The Internet increasingly mediates our lives, our relationships and our ability to exercise our human rights. As a forum, it provides a global public space despite being built on predominantly private infrastructure. Since Internet protocols play a central role in the management, development and use of the Internet, the relation between protocols and the aforementioned rights should be analyzed and any adverse impacts should be mitigated.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

We shape our tools and, thereafter, our tools shape us. 
     - John Culkin (1967)

The Internet is constantly shaping modern information societies by providing a socio-technical ordering. In other words, the Internet infrastructure and architecture consist of social and technological arrangements [StarRuhleder]. Such ordering is not always apparent because infrastructure is often taken for granted by those using it. It tends to hide itself in the societal woodwork [Mosco], or put otherwise: ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear’ [Weiser].

Infrastructure therefore is mostly known by an epistemic community of experts [Haas] and only gets recognized by the larger public when it fails. As the Internet grows, decisions made about its architecture are become more important. [RFC8280] established the relationship between human rights and Internet protocols. Following the same methodology, we now seek to uncover the relation between the right to assembly, association and the Internet infrastructure.

One one hand, the right to freedom of assembly and association protects collective expression. Likewise, systems and protocols that enable communal interactions between people and servers allow this right to prosper given that the Internet itself was originally designed as “a medium of communication for machines that share resources with each other as equals” [NelsonHedlun].

The current draft continues the work started in [RFC8280] by investigating the exact impact of Internet protocols on specific human rights, namely the right to freedom of assembly and association, in order to mitigate potential negative impacts.

2. Vocabulary used

The design of a structure
Autonomous System (AS)
Autonomous Systems are the unit of routing policy in the modern world of exterior routing [RFC1930].
Within the Internet, an autonomous system (AS) is a collection of connected Internet Protocol (IP) routing prefixes under the control of one or more network operators on behalf of a single administrative entity or domain that presents a common, clearly defined routing policy to the Internet [RFC1930].
The classic definition of an Autonomous System is a set of routers under a single technical administration, using an interior gateway protocol and common metrics to route packets within the AS, and using an exterior gateway protocol to route packets to other ASs [RFC1771].
Border Gateway Protocol (BGP)
An inter-Autonomous System routing protocol [RFC4271].
The extent to which a device or network is able to reach other devices or networks to exchange data. The Internet is the tool for providing global connectivity [RFC1958]. Different types of connectivity are further specified in [RFC4084]. The combination of the end-to-end principle, interoperability, distributed architecture, resilience, reliability and robustness are the enabling factors that result in connectivity to and on the Internet.
Implementation or deployment of standards, protocols or systems without one single point of control.
Distributed system
A system with multiple components that have their behavior co-ordinated via message passing. These components are usually spatially separated and communicate using a network, and may be managed by a single root of trust or authority. [Troncosoetal]
Underlying basis or structure for a functioning society, organization or community. Because infrastructure is a precondition for other activities it has a procedural, rather than static, nature due to its social and cultural embeddedness [PipekWulf] [Bloketal]. This means that infrastructure is always relational: infrastructure always develops in relation to something or someone [Bowker].
The Network of networks, that consists of Autonomous Systems that are connected through the Internet Protocol (IP).
A persistent socio-technical system over which services are delivered [Mainwaringetal],
A techno-social assemblage of devices, users, sensors, networks, routers, governance, administrators, operators and protocols
An emergent-process-driven thing that is born from the collections of the ASes that happen to be gathered together at any given time. The fact that they tend to interact at any given time means it is an emergent property that happens because they use the protocols defined at IETF.

3. Research question

How does the architecture of the internet enable and/or inhibit the right to freedom of assembly and association?

4. Methodology

The point of departure of the present work is [RFC8280] - an initial effort to establish the relationship between human rights and the Internet architecture, specifically protocols and standards. As such, [RFC8280] was inductive and explorative in nature, and it ultimately established either causal or deterministic relationships between aforementioned concepts through a series of case studies.

The methodology was based on process tracing, semi-structured interviews and quantitative and qualitative document analysis which has been further validated through confirmatory research in the form of Human Rights Protocol Reviews. The causal relationship, proposed as a hypothesis in [RFC8280] says that there is an inherent relationship between protocols, the Internet architecture, and human rights. The guidelines in [RFC8280] describe a relationship between the right to freedom of assembly and association and connectivity, security, censorship resistance, anonymity, pseudonymity, accessibility, decentralization, adaptability, and outcome transparency.

Taking into consideration the international human rights framework regarding freedom of assembly and association, the present document seeks to deepen the relationship between the Internet architecture, protocols, and standards without creating new guidelines. In that way, we continue the work proposed in [RFC8280] and follow the primary aim of the Human Rights Protocol Consideration Research Group, as laid out in its charter where one of the research aims is ‘to expose the relation between protocols and human rights, with a focus on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly’. Even though the present work does not seek to create new guidelines, the conclusions could inform the development of new guidelines such as is done in draft-irtf-hrpc-guidelines.

Given that our current research proposition is that “the Internet infrastructure significantly impacts the ability of people to exercise the human rights to freedom of association and assembly’, we therefore aim to test the causal relationship through a case-selection method, where we have adopted a purposive sampling approach, aimed at the typicality and paradigmatic nature of the cases [SeawrightGerring] to help us achieve an attempt at an an ethnography of infrastructure [Star]. Subsequently we analyze the cases through the theoretical framework provided in the literature review and based on that provide recommendations based on the findings.

5. Literature Review

The right to freedom of assembly and association protects and enables collective action and expression [UDHR] [ICCPR]. It’s purpose is to ensure that everyone in a society has the opportunity to express opinions they hold in common with others. As such, it is a tool that facilitates dialogue among citizens, as well as with political leaders or governments [OSCE]. In a democracy, causes and opinions are more widely heard when a group of people come together behind the same cause or issue [Tocqueville].

In international law, the right to freedom of assembly and association protects any collective, gathered either permanently or temporarily for “peaceful” purposes. It is important to underline the property of “freedom” because the right to freedom of association and assembly is voluntary and uncoerced: anyone can join or leave a group of choice, which in turn means one should not be forced to either join, stay or leave. What constitutes a definition of “peaceful” is outside the scope of the present document.

The difference between freedom of assembly and freedom of association is merely a gradual one: the former tends to have an informal and ephemeral nature, whereas the latter refers to established and permanent bodies with specific objectives. Nonetheless, both are protected to the same degree.

Where an assembly is an intentional and temporary gathering of a collective in a private or public space for a specific purpose: demonstrations, indoor meetings, strikes, processions, rallies or even sits-in [UNHRC]; association has a more formal and established nature. It refers to a group of individuals or legal entities brought together in order to collectively act, express, pursue or defend a field of common interests [UNGA]. Think about civil society organizations, clubs, cooperatives, NGOs, religious associations, political parties, trade unions or foundations.

Even if privacy and freedom of expression are the most discussed human rights when it comes to the online world, the right to freedom of assembly and association is quintessential for the Internet. Online association and assembly are the starting point of group to mobilization in modern democracies, and even more so where physical gatherings have been impossible or dangerous [APC]. Throughout the world -from the Arab Spring to Latin American student movements and the #WomensMarch- the Internet has played a crucial role by providing means for the fast dissemination of information otherwise mediated by the press, or even forbidden by the government [Pensado]. According to Hussain and Howard the Internet helped to “build solidarity networks and identification of collective identities and goals, extend the range of local coverage to international broadcast networks” and as platform for contestation for “the future of civil society and information infrastructure” [HussainHoward].

The IETF itself, defined as a ‘open global community’ of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers is also protected by freedom of assembly and association [RFC3233]. Discussions, comments and consensus around RFCs are possible because of the collective expression that freedom of association and assembly allow. The very word “protocol” found its way into the language of computer networking based on the need for collective agreement among network users [HafnerandLyon].

We are aware that some of the following examples go beyond the use of Internet protocols and flow over into the application layer or examples in the offline world whereas the purpose of the current document is to break down the relationship between Internet protocols and the right to freedom of assembly and association. Nonetheless, given that protocols are a part of the socio-technical ordering of reality, we do recognize that in some cases the line between them and applications, implementations, policies and offline realities are often blurred and hard -if not impossible- to differentiate.

6. Cases and examples

As the Internet mediates collective action and collaboration, it impacts on freedom of association and assembly. To answer our research question regarding how internet architecture enable and/or inhibits such human right, we researched several independent and typical cases related to protocols that have been either adopted by the IETF, or are widely used on the Internet. Our goal is to figure out whether they facilitate freedom of assembly and association, or whether they inhibit it through their design or implementation. We also indicate, per case, the interrelation with issues in [RFC8280].

6.1. Conversing

An interactive conversation between two or more people forms the basis to organize and associate. According to Anderson “the relationship between political conversation and engagement in the democratic process is strong.” [Anderson]. A conversation is inherently of social nature. Therefore, by these definitions the core of the “political” is essentially assembly or association: a basis for the development of social cohesion in society.

6.1.1. Mailing Lists

Since the beginning of the Internet mailing lists have been a key site of assembly and association [RFC0155] [RFC1211]. In fact, mailing lists were one of the Internet’s first functionalities [HafnerandLyon].

In 1971, four years after the invention of email, the first mailing list was created to talk about the idea of using Arpanet for discussion. What had initially propelled the Arpanet project forward as a resource sharing platform was gradually replaced by the idea of a network as a means of bringing people together [Abbate]. More than 45 years after, mailing lists are pervasive and help communities to engage, have discussions, share information, ask questions, and build ties. Even as social media and discussion forums grow, mailing lists continue to be widely used [AckermannKargerZhang] and are still a crucial tool to organise groups and individuals around themes and causes [APC].

Mailing lists’ pervasive use are partly explained because they allow for “free” association: people subscribe (join) and unsubscribe (leave) as they please. Mailing lists also allow for association of specific groups on closed lists. Furthermore, the archival function of mailinglists allows for posterior accountability and analysis. The downsides of mailinglists are similar to the ones generally associated with e-mail, except that end-to-end encryption such as OpenPGP [RFC4880] and S​/​MIME [RFC5751] are not possible because the final recipients are not known. There have been experimental solutions to address this issue such as Schleuder [Schleuder], but this has not been standardized or widely deployed.

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Decentralization - Censorship Resistance - Open Standards - Confidentiality

6.1.2. Multi-party video conferencing

Multi-party video conferencing protocols like WebRTC [RFC6176] [RFC7118] allow for robust, bandwidth-adaptive, wideband and super-wideband video and audio discussions in groups. ‘The WebRTC protocol was designed to enable responsive real-time communications over the Internet, and is instrumental in allowing streaming video and conferencing applications to run in the browser. In order to easily facilitate direct connections between computers (bypassing the need for a central server to act as a gatekeeper), WebRTC provides functionality to automatically collect the local and public IP addresses of Internet users (ICE or STUN). These functions do not require consent from the user, and can be instantiated by sites that a user visits without their awareness. The potential privacy implications of this aspect of WebRTC are well documented, and certain browsers have provided options to limit its behavior.’ [AndersonGuarnieri].

Even though some multi-party video conferencing tools facilitate freedom of assembly and association, their own configuration might might pose concrete risks for those who use them. One the one hand WebRTC is providing resilient channels of communications, but on the other hand it also exposes information about those who are using the tool which might lead to increased surveillance, identification and the consequences that might be derived from that. This is especially concerning because the usage of a VPN does not protect against the exposure of IP addresses [Crawford].

The risk of surveillance is also true in an offline space, but this is generally easy to analyze for the end-user. Security and privacy expectations of the end-user could be either improved or made explicit. This in turn would result in a more secure and/or private exercise of the right to freedom of assembly or association.

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Decentralization - Censorship Resistance - Open Standards - Anonymity - Confidentiality

6.1.3. Internet Relay Chat

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is an application layer protocol that enables communication in the form of text through a client/server networking model [RFC2810]. In other words, a chat service. IRC clients are computer programs that a user can install on their system. These clients communicate with chat servers to transfer messages to other clients.

For order to be kept within the IRC network, special classes of users become “operators” and are allowed to perform general maintenance functions on the network: basic network tasks such as disconnecting (temporary or permanently) and reconnecting servers as needed [RFC2812]. One of the most controversial power of operators is the ability to remove a user from the connected network by ‘force’, i.e., operators are able to close the connection between any client and server [RFC2812].

IRC servers may deploy different policies for the ability of users to create their own channels or ‘rooms’, and for the delegation of ‘operator’-rights in such spaces. Some IRC servers support SSL/TLS connections for security purposes [RFC7194] which helps stop the use of packet sniffer programs to obtain the passwords of IRC users, but has little use beyond this scope due to the public nature of IRC channels. TLS connections require both client and server support (that may require the user to install TLS binaries and IRC client specific patches or modules on their computers). Some networks also use TLS for server to server connections, and provide a special channel flag (such as +S) to only allow TLS-connected users on the channel, while disallowing operator identification in clear text, to better utilize the advantages that TLS provides.

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Censorship Resistance

6.2. Peer-to-peer networks and systems

At the organizational level, peer production is one of the most relevant innovations from Internet mediated social practices. According to [Benkler] these networks imply ‘open collaborative innovation and creation, performed by diverse, decentralized groups organized principally by neither price signals nor organizational hierarchy, harnessing heterogeneous motivations, and governed and managed based on principles other than the residual authority of ownership implemented through contract.’ [Benkler].

In his book The Wealth of Networks, Benkler significantly expands on his definition of commons-based peer production. In his view, what distinguishes commons-based production is that it doesn’t rely upon or propagate proprietary knowledge: “The inputs and outputs of the process are shared, freely or conditionally, in an institutional form that leaves them equally available for all to use as they choose at their individual discretion.” [Benkler] To ensure that the knowledge generated is available for free use, commons-based projects are often shared under an open license.

6.2.1. Peer-to-peer system architectures

Peer-to-peer (P2P) is essentially a model of how people interact in real life because “we deal directly with one another whenever we wish to” [Vu]. Usually if we need something we ask our peers, who in turn refer us to other peers. In this sense, the ideal definition of P2P is that “nodes are able to directly exchange resources and services between themselves without the need for centralized servers” where each participating node typically acts both as a server and as a client [Vu]. RFC 5694 has defined it as peers or nodes that should be able to communicate directly between themselves without passing intermediaries, and that the system should be self-organizing and have decentralized control [RFC5694]. With this in mind, the ultimate model of P2P is a completely decentralized system, which is more resistant to speech regulation, immune to single points of failure and has a higher performance and scalability. Nonetheless, in practice some P2P systems are supported by centralized servers and some others have hybrid models where nodes are organized into two layers: the upper tier servers and the lower tier common nodes [Vu].

Since the ARPANET project, the original idea behind the Internet was conceived as what we would now call a peer-to-peer system [RFC0001]. Over time it has increasingly shifted towards a client/server model with “millions of consumer clients communicating with a relatively privileged set of servers” [NelsonHedlun].

Whether for resource sharing or data sharing, P2P systems are enabling freedom of assembly and association. Not only do they allow for effective dissemination of information, but they leverage computing resources by diminishing costs allowing for the formation of open collectives at the network level. At the same time, in completely decentralized systems the nodes are autonomous and can join or leave the network as they want -a characteristic that makes the system unpredictable: a resource might be only sometimes available, and some other resources might be missing or incomplete [Vu]. Lack of information might in turn makes association or assembly more difficult.

Additionally, when architecturally assessing the role of P2P systems we could say that: “the main advantage of centralized P2P systems is that they are able to provide a quick and reliable resource locating. Their limitation, however, is that the scalability of the systems is affected by the use of servers. While decentralized P2P systems are better than centralized P2P systems in this aspect, they require a longer time in resource locating. As a result, hybrid P2P systems have been introduced to take advantage of both centralized and decentralized architectures. Basically, to maintain the scalability, similar to decentralized P2P systems, there are no servers in hybrid P2P systems. However, peer nodes that are more powerful than others can be selected to act as servers to serve others. These nodes are often called super peers. In this way, resource locating can be done by both decentralized search techniques and centralized search techniques (asking super peers), and hence the systems benefit from the search techniques of centralized P2P systems.” [Vu]

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Decentralization - Censorship Resistance - Open Standards - Anonymity - Heterogeneity Support - Integrity - Authenticity - Adaptability

6.2.2. Version control

Ever since developers needed to collaboratively write, maintain and discuss large code basis for the Internet there have been different approaches of doing so. The easiest approach has been discussing code through mailing lists even though this has proven to be hard when maintaining the most recent versions, which is why versión control systems ultimately make sense.

A version control system is a piece of software that enables developers on a software team to work together and also archive a complete history of their work [Sink]. This allows teams to be working simultaneously on updated versions. According to Sink, broadly speaking, the history of version control tools can be divided into three generations. In the first one, concurrent development meant that only one person could be working on a file at a time. The second generation tools permit simultaneous modifications as long as users merge the current revisions into their work before they are allowed to commit. The third generation tools allow merge and commit to be separated [Sink].

Interestingly no version control system has ever been standardized in the IETF whereas the version control systems like Subversion and Git are widely used within the community and working groups. There has been a spirited discussion on whether working groups should use centralized forms of the Git protocol, such as those offered by Gitlab or Github. Proponents argue that this simplifies the workflow and allows for more transparency. Opponents argue that the reliance on a centralized service which is not merely using the Git protocol but also uses non-standardized options like an Issue-Tracker, makes the process less transparent and reliant on a third party.

The IETF has not made a decision on the use of centralized instances of Git, such as Github or Gitlab. There have been two efforts to standardize the workflow vis a vis these third party services, but these haven’t come to fruition: [Wugh] [GithubIETF].

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Decentralization - Open Standards - Heterogeneity Support - Integrity - Authenticity - Adaptability

6.3. Grouping together (identities)

Collective identities are also protected by freedom of association and assembly. According to Melucci these are ‘shared definitions produced by several interacting individuals who are concerned with the orientation of their action as well as the field of opportunities and constraints in which their action takes place.’ [Melucci] In this sense, assemblies and associations are an important base in the maintenance and development of culture, as well as preservation of minority identities [OSCE].

6.3.1. DNS

Domain names allow hosts to be identified by human parsable information. Whereas an IP address might not be the expression of an identity, a domain name can be and often is. The grouping of certain identities under specific domains or even Top Level Domains are risky: connecting an identity to a hierarchically structured identifier systems creates a central attack surface which allows for an easier surveillance of the services running on the domain, domain based censorship [RFC7754], or impersonation of the domain through DNS cache poisoning. The use of a centralized authority always makes censorship through a registry or registrar possible, as well as by using a fake resolver or using proposed standards such as DNS Response Policy Zones [RPZ]. Several technologies have been developed in the IETF to mitigate these risks such as DNS over TLS [RFC7858], DNSSEC [RFC4033], DNS over HTTPS [RFC8484]. When these mitigations are implemented, censorship will not be made impossible but it will be made visible.

The structuring of DNS as a hierarchical authority structure also brings about a specific characteristic, namely the possibility of centralized policy making vis-á-vis the management and operation of Top Level Domains, which is what happens partly at ICANN. The impact of ICANN processes on human rights will not be discussed here.

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Decentralization - Censorship Resistance - Anonymity - Heterogeneity Support - Integrity - Authenticity - Adaptability - Outcome Transparency

6.3.2. Autonomous Systems

In order for edge-users to connect to the Internet, they need to be connected to an Autonomous System (AS) which, in turn, has peering or transit relations with other AS’es. This means that in the process of accessing the Internet, edge-users need to accept the policies and practices of the intermediary that provides them access to the other networks. In other words, for users to be able to join the ‘network of networks’, they always need to connect through an intermediary.

While accessing the Internet through an intermediary, the user is forced to accept the policies, practices and principles of a network. This could impede the rights of the edge-user, depending on the implemented policies and practices on the network and how (if at all) they are communicated to them. For example: filtering, blocking, extensive logging, slowing down connection or specific services, or other invasive practices that are not clearly communicated to the user.

In practice, the user must accept policies of ASes he has no relationship with, and didn’t choose. For instance, there is no way to direct the packets to avoid the Five Eyes, not even to know after the fact where the packet went. [FiveEyes] [SchengenRouting] (Traceroutes give you an idea but the path may change before and after the traceroute.) Given that it is not trivial for an edge-user to operate an AS and engage in peering relation with other ASes, there might not be another way for the edge-user to connect to the network of networks. In this case, users are forced into accepting the policies of a specific network. Such design, combined with the increased importance of the Internet to make use of basic services, forces edge-users to associate with a specific network without consenting -or even knowing- the policies of the network.

Additionally, it can be noted that there is no standard and deployed way for the edge-user to choose the routes her packets will go through. [RFC0791] section 3.1 standardized “source routing” and “record route” but neither were deployed, mainly because of serious security issues.

This case relates to the following considerations in [RFC8280]: - Security - Privacy - Decentralization - Censorship Resistance - Anonymity - Heterogeneity Support - Integrity - Authenticity - Adaptability - Outcome Transparency

7. Discussion: Establishing the relation

The case studies show that the Internet infrastructure, the combination of architecture and protocols, facilitates freedom of association and assembly, by allowing groups of people to converse, collaborate, exchange, and build and maintain identities in both structural and occasional manners. The structural forms of group activities are more related to freedom of association, whereas freedom of assembly often has a more incidental nature. The difference between the two, as mentioned, is a gradual one. This is equally true to the infrastructural mediations of these rights.

Whereas we established that the Internet infrastructure facilitates freedom of association and assembly, by its very technical and material nature, it both creates and limits the spaces for it. This is an interesting tension because juridically only lawful limitations to the rights are allowed, and even then only if they are necessary, and proportionate. This exposes legal implications of the characteristics of the Internet infrastructure.

These preliminary finding suggest that the properties and characteristic through which the Internet infrastructure enables and inhibits freedom of assemblies and association should also be analyzed from a legal lens. The case studies have pointed out several caveats in implementations, that might not necessarily be understood by people while exercising their right to association of assembly, and which thus should either be mitigated, or at least, be communicated to the rights holders.

8. Discussion: Protocols and Platforms

Whereas the Internet is a network of networks, and can therefore be understood as an assembly, applications on top of the Internet do not necessarily inherit the same structure. Quite the opposite, the Internet increasingly becomes a vehicle for commercial, proprietary and non-interoperable platforms. This lack of interoperation is harming the ability of people to set or negotiate their own terms on which they would like to assemble or associate, or host their own interoperating services.

Even though the Internet has always allowed for (partially) closed-off networks, the current trend shows the rise of a small number of very large non-interoperable platforms. Chat has moved from XMPP and IRC to Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and WeChat and there has been a strong rise of social media networks with large numbers of users, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A similar trend can be found among e-mail providers, with the significant difference that e-mail is interoperable.

Often these non-interoperable platforms are built on open-protocols but do not allow for inter-operability or data-portability. In the case of large private platforms, this in turn leads to strong network externalities also know as a network effect; because the users are there, users will be there. Even though social-media platforms have enabled groups to associate, they have also led to a ‘tactical freeze’ because of the inability to change the platforms [Tufekci].

Whereas these networks are a ready-to-hand networked public sphere, they do not allow their inhabitants to change or fully understand their workings. In a near future, this could potentially impact infrastructure itself and the distributed nature of the Internet [RFC1287].

9. Conclusions

Communities, collaboration and joint action lie at the heart of the Internet. Even at at linguistical level, the words “networks” and “associations” are close synonyms. Both interconnected groups and assemblies of people depend on “links” and “relationships” [Swire]. Taking legal definitions given in international human rights law jurisprudence, we could assert that the right to freedom of assembly and association protect collective expression. These rights protect any collective, gathered either permanently or temporarily for “peaceful” purposes. It is voluntary and uncoerced.

Given that the Internet itself was originally designed as a medium of communication for machines that share resources with each other as equals [RFC0903], the Internet is now one of the most basic infrastructures for the right to freedom of assembly and association. Since Internet protocols and the Internet architecture play a central role in the management, development and use of the Internet, we established the relation between some protocols and the right to freedom of assembly and association.

After reviewing several typical representative cases, we can conclude that the way in which infrastructure is designed and implemented impacts people’s ability to exercise their freedom of assembly and association. This is because different technical designs come with different properties and characteristics. These properties and characteristics on the one hand enable people to assemble and associate, but on the other hand also adds limiting, or even potentially endangering, characteristics. More often than not, this depends on the context. A clearly identified group for open communications, where messages are sent in cleartext and where peoples persistent identities are viisble, can help to faciliate an assembly and build trust, but in other context the same configuration could pose a significant danger. Endangering characteristics should be mitigated, or at least clearly communicated to the users of these technologies.

Lastly, the increasing shift towards closed and non-interoperable platforms in chat and social media networks have a significant impact on the distributed and open nature of the Internet. Often these non-interoperable platforms are built on open-protocols but do not allow for inter-operability or data-portability. The use of social-media platforms has enabled groups to associate, but is has also rendered users unable to change platforms, therefore leading to a sort of “forced association” that inhibits people to fully exercise their freedom of assembly and association.

10. Acknowledgements

11. Security Considerations

As this draft concerns a research document, there are no security considerations.

12. IANA Considerations

This document has no actions for IANA.

13. Research Group Information

The discussion list for the IRTF Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group is located at the e-mail address Information on the group and information on how to subscribe to the list is at

Archives of the list can be found at:

14. Informative References

[Abbate] Janet Abbate, ., "Inventing the Internet", Cambridge: MIT Press (2013): 11. , 2013.
[AckermannKargerZhang] Ackerman, M., Karger, D. and A. Zhang, "Mailing Lists: Why Are They Still Here, What’s Wrong With Them, and How Can We Fix Them?", Mit. edu (2017): 1. , 2017.
[Anderson] Andersson, E., "The political voice of young citizens Educational conditions for political conversation – school and social media", Utbildning & Demokrati: Tidskrift för Didaktik och Utbildningspolitik, Volume 21, Number 1, 2012, pp. 97-119(23) , 2012.
[AndersonGuarnieri] Anderson, C. and C. Guarnieri, "Fictitious Profiles and WebRTC's Privacy Leaks Used to Identify Iranian Activists", 2016.
[APC] Association for Progressive Communications and . Gayathry Venkiteswaran, "Freedom of assembly and association online in India, Malaysia and Pakistan. Trends, challenges and recommendations.", 2016.
[Benkler] Benkler, Y., "Peer Production and Cooperation", 2009.
[Bloketal] Blok, A., Nakazora, M. and B. Winthereik, "Infrastructuring Environments", Science as Culture 25:1, 1-22. , 2016.
[Bowker] Bowker, G., "Information mythology and infrastructure", In: L. Bud (Ed.), Information Acumen: The Understanding and use of Knowledge in Modern Business,Routledge,London,1994,pp.231–247 , 1994.
[Crawford] Crawford, D., "The WebRTC VPN “Bug” and How to Fix", 2015.
[FiveEyes] Wikipedia, ., "Five Eyes", 2018.
[GithubIETF] Thomson, M. and A. Atlas, "Using GitHub at the IETF", 2017.
[Haas] Haas, P., "Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination", International Organization, special issue: Knowledge, Power, and International Policy Coordination, Cambridge Journals. 46 (1): 1–35. , 1992.
[HafnerandLyon] Hafnerand, K. and M. Lyon, "Where Wizards Stay Up Late. The Origins of the Internet", First Touchstone Edition (1998): 93. , 1998.
[HussainHoward] Hussain, M. and P. Howard, "What Best Explains Successful Protest Cascades? ICTs and the Fuzzy Causes of the Arab Spring", Int Stud Rev (2013) 15 (1): 48-66. , 2013.
[ICCPR] United Nations General Assembly, "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights", 1966.
[Mainwaringetal] Mainwaring, S., Chang, M. and K. Anderson, "Infrastructures and Their Discontents: Implications for Ubicomp", DBLP Conference: Conference: UbiComp 2004: Ubiquitous Computing: 6th International Conference, Nottingham, UK, September 7-10, 2004. Proceedings , 2004.
[Melucci] Melucci, A., "The Process of Collective Identity", Temple University Press, Philadelphia , 1995.
[Mosco] Mosco, V., "The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace", 2005.
[NelsonHedlun] Minar, N. and M. Hedlun, "A Network of Peers: Models Through the History of the Internet", Peer to Peer: Harnessing the Power of Disruptive Technologies, ed: Andy Oram , 2001.
[OSCE] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, "Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly", page 24 , 2010.
[Pensado] Jaime Pensado, ., "Student Activism. Utopian Dreams.", ReVista. Harvard Review of Latin America (2012). , 2012.
[PipekWulf] Pipek, V. and W. Wolf, "Infrastructuring: Towards an Integrated Perspective on the Design and Use of Information Technology", Journal of the Association for Information Systems (10) 5, pp. 306-332 , 2009.
[RFC0001] Crocker, S., "Host Software", RFC 1, DOI 10.17487/RFC0001, April 1969.
[RFC0155] North, J., "ARPA Network mailing lists", RFC 155, DOI 10.17487/RFC0155, May 1971.
[RFC0791] Postel, J., "Internet Protocol", STD 5, RFC 791, DOI 10.17487/RFC0791, September 1981.
[RFC0903] Finlayson, R., Mann, T., Mogul, J. and M. Theimer, "A Reverse Address Resolution Protocol", STD 38, RFC 903, DOI 10.17487/RFC0903, June 1984.
[RFC1211] Westine, A. and J. Postel, "Problems with the maintenance of large mailing lists", RFC 1211, DOI 10.17487/RFC1211, March 1991.
[RFC1287] Clark, D., Chapin, L., Cerf, V., Braden, R. and R. Hobby, "Towards the Future Internet Architecture", RFC 1287, DOI 10.17487/RFC1287, December 1991.
[RFC1771] Rekhter, Y. and T. Li, "A Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4)", RFC 1771, DOI 10.17487/RFC1771, March 1995.
[RFC1930] Hawkinson, J. and T. Bates, "Guidelines for creation, selection, and registration of an Autonomous System (AS)", BCP 6, RFC 1930, DOI 10.17487/RFC1930, March 1996.
[RFC1958] Carpenter, B., "Architectural Principles of the Internet", RFC 1958, DOI 10.17487/RFC1958, June 1996.
[RFC2810] Kalt, C., "Internet Relay Chat: Architecture", RFC 2810, DOI 10.17487/RFC2810, April 2000.
[RFC2812] Kalt, C., "Internet Relay Chat: Client Protocol", RFC 2812, DOI 10.17487/RFC2812, April 2000.
[RFC3233] Hoffman, P. and S. Bradner, "Defining the IETF", BCP 58, RFC 3233, DOI 10.17487/RFC3233, February 2002.
[RFC4033] Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D. and S. Rose, "DNS Security Introduction and Requirements", RFC 4033, DOI 10.17487/RFC4033, March 2005.
[RFC4084] Klensin, J., "Terminology for Describing Internet Connectivity", BCP 104, RFC 4084, DOI 10.17487/RFC4084, May 2005.
[RFC4271] Rekhter, Y., Li, T. and S. Hares, "A Border Gateway Protocol 4 (BGP-4)", RFC 4271, DOI 10.17487/RFC4271, January 2006.
[RFC4880] Callas, J., Donnerhacke, L., Finney, H., Shaw, D. and R. Thayer, "OpenPGP Message Format", RFC 4880, DOI 10.17487/RFC4880, November 2007.
[RFC5246] Dierks, T. and E. Rescorla, "The Transport Layer Security (TLS) Protocol Version 1.2", RFC 5246, DOI 10.17487/RFC5246, August 2008.
[RFC5694] Camarillo, G. and IAB, "Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Architecture: Definition, Taxonomies, Examples, and Applicability", RFC 5694, DOI 10.17487/RFC5694, November 2009.
[RFC5751] Ramsdell, B. and S. Turner, "Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S​/​MIME) Version 3.2 Message Specification", RFC 5751, DOI 10.17487/RFC5751, January 2010.
[RFC6176] Turner, S. and T. Polk, "Prohibiting Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) Version 2.0", RFC 6176, DOI 10.17487/RFC6176, March 2011.
[RFC7118] Baz Castillo, I., Millan Villegas, J. and V. Pascual, "The WebSocket Protocol as a Transport for the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)", RFC 7118, DOI 10.17487/RFC7118, January 2014.
[RFC7194] Hartmann, R., "Default Port for Internet Relay Chat (IRC) via TLS/SSL", RFC 7194, DOI 10.17487/RFC7194, August 2014.
[RFC7754] Barnes, R., Cooper, A., Kolkman, O., Thaler, D. and E. Nordmark, "Technical Considerations for Internet Service Blocking and Filtering", RFC 7754, DOI 10.17487/RFC7754, March 2016.
[RFC7858] Hu, Z., Zhu, L., Heidemann, J., Mankin, A., Wessels, D. and P. Hoffman, "Specification for DNS over Transport Layer Security (TLS)", RFC 7858, DOI 10.17487/RFC7858, May 2016.
[RFC8280] ten Oever, N. and C. Cath, "Research into Human Rights Protocol Considerations", RFC 8280, DOI 10.17487/RFC8280, October 2017.
[RFC8484] Hoffman, P. and P. McManus, "DNS Queries over HTTPS (DoH)", RFC 8484, DOI 10.17487/RFC8484, October 2018.
[RPZ] Vixie, P. and V. Schyver, "DNS Response Policy Zones (RPZ)", 2017.
[SchengenRouting] Wikipedia, ., "Schengen Routing", 2018.
[Schleuder] Nadir, "Schleuder - A gpg-enabled mailinglist with remailing-capabilities.", 2017.
[SeawrightGerring] Seawright, J. and J. Gerring, "Case Selection Techniques in Case Study Research: A Menu of Qualitative and Quantitative Options", Political Research Quarterly, 61(2), 294–308. , 2008.
[Sink] Sink, E., "Version Control by Example", 2011.
[Star] Star, S., "The Ethnography of Infrastructure", American Behavioral Scientist, Volume 43 (3), 377-391. , 1999.
[StarRuhleder] Star, S. and K. Ruhleder, "Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: Design and access for large information spaces", Information Systems Research 7 (1) (1996) 111–134. , 1996.
[Swire] Peter Swire, ., "Social Networks, Privacy, and Freedom of Association: Data Empowerment vs. Data Protection", North Carolina Law Review (2012) 90 (1): 104. , 2012.
[Tocqueville] de Tocqueville, A., "Democracy in America", 1840.
[Troncosoetal] Troncoso, C., Isaakdis, M., Danezis, G. and H. Halpin, "Systematizing Decentralization and Privacy: Lessons from 15 Years of Research and Deployments", Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies ; 2017 (4):307–329 , 2017.
[Tufekci] Tufekci, Z., "Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest", 2017.
[UDHR] United Nations General Assembly, "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights", 1948.
[UNGA] Hina Jilani, ., "Human rights defenders", A/59/401 , 2004.
[UNHRC] Maina Kiai, ., "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association", A/HRC/20/27 , 2012.
[Vu] Vu, Quang Hieu, ., Lupu, Mihai, . and . Ooi, Beng Chin, "Peer-to-Peer Computing: Principles and Applications", 2010.
[Weiser] Weiser, L., "The Computer for the 21st Century", Scientific American Ubicomp Paper after Sci Am editing , 1991.
[Wugh] Nottingham, M., "Using Third Party Services for IETF Work", 2017.

Authors' Addresses

Niels ten Oever University of Amsterdam EMail:
Gisela Perez de Acha Derechos Digitales EMail: