A Policy Shaper’s Perspective on the Legislative Challenges of an Open Internet in Colombia


A Policy Shaper’s Perspective on the Legislative Challenges of an Open Internet in Colombia

Colombian lawyer German López Ardila participated in the programs offered by LACNIC to bring together Internet Governance and the technical community, first in the Líderes program, then in the Policy Shapers program.

His study titled “All for One and One for All: Legislative Challenges for an Open Internet” was conducted within the framework of the Líderes program and sought to analyze recent bills introduced in Colombia to identify the various risks that they might pose to an open Internet. In this context, many of these bills contained unjustifiably harsh censorship obligations or established obligations that were neither technically nor legally feasible.

Based on this analysis, López Ardila developed a document for legislators aiming to explain and raise awareness about key aspects of how the Internet and its governance work, as well as to technically inform the legislative debate on the Internet in the country. The Policy Shapers program then provided him with the opportunity to delve deeper and increase the visibility of the results of his research.

What was your experience with the Líderes program?

I have been involved in the Colombian Internet ecosystem for several years and perhaps one of the most interesting figures in this field is Julián Casasbuenas, my mentor during the program. I met him within the framework of the Colombian Roundtable on Internet Governance, and he helped me discover the importance of IG in the region. At that time (2022), I was analyzing how recent bills with a certain impact on the Internet worked at the legislative level, particularly those related to managing content blocking. During this period, we had the opportunity to build a much closer relationship with Julián.

How has your work contributed to advancing the discussion about the Internet and legislative challenges in Colombia?

My analysis revealed that there were different reasons behind content blocking, including the defense of reputation, the protection of children and adolescents, and copyright protection. The task was to convert this analysis into a much shorter document using the Legal Design methodology. The goal was for parliamentarians to understand what we mean when we mention “Internet Governance,” the multiple stakeholders involved, and the issues related to content management, always seeking to enhance their capabilities and make sure we speak the same language. It is worth noting that the bills mapped during that period did not become law, as many had various technical problems.

The exercise was interesting, as it allowed me to organize events with universities such as the Externado University of Colombia and invite various representatives of the local Internet ecosystem for the purpose of sharing results and raising awareness about the significance of an open Internet in the country. We particularly stressed how the Internet has become an important tool for strengthening democracy, as it allows the exchange of ideas and promotes dialogue, beyond merely technical-legal discussions.

How has the Policy Shapers program helped you from a technical perspective and from the point of view of Internet Governance?

As someone without a technical background, I have always focused more on public policy and regulation discussions. However, the opportunity to understand what is happening from a technical perspective, to learn what is behind Internet protocols and infrastructure, adds substantial value to the discussions, which become more robust and precise. For instance, my work within the framework of the Líderes program made me realize that many of the proposed initiatives were not technically feasible, and this is the result of certain decision makers’ lack of knowledge. When a decision to block content is made lightly, there is something much more complex involved that cuts across multiple Internet layers and actors. Having technical knowledge is of great help, particularly when developing public policies. LACNIC has an extremely relevant task, which is to translate highly technical aspects into a language that decision-makers can understand.

Additionally, completing the Inter-American Diploma Course: The Human Right to Privacy and Protection of Personal Data and the Diploma in Internet Governance has provided me with a truly interesting mix of knowledge. From understanding how actors in the ecosystem create policies, one transitions to things that are in the legal domain, such as data protection and the interaction between individuals, companies, and governments. The diploma in Montevideo offers the opportunity to engage with top-level experts who are examining topics such as AI, telecommunications infrastructure, Internet blackouts, and others. All of this feels like a good conclusion because when you look back on the experience you realize that the process begins with small steps towards increasingly complex issues, with key individuals and establishing connections that are incredibly valuable to make a difference in the region.

What additional value were you able to bring to your research and topic after completing the program?

The integration of both pathways ended up being very useful to apply for another program, Open Internet for Democracy Leaders. My project has also allowed me to increase my presence in spaces for discussing how to strengthen democracy in Colombia via the Internet, as well as how to strengthen the private sector’s participation.

Particularly, the Policy Shapers Program allowed me to further the work I had been doing and this came hand in hand with working with others. Last year, I was lucky enough to work on multiple Internet Governance related events in the region and elsewhere. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects was precisely the opportunity to strengthen ties with colleagues working on similar issues. This allowed me to get to know other perspectives, not only in Latin America and the Caribbean but also in Africa, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia. Naturally, my research focused on the issue of Internet fragmentation. For instance, I had the opportunity to participate in the RightsCon conference organized by AccessNow, and the Policy Network on Internet Fragmentation (PNIF) on Internet Governance.

What knowledge and professional tools have you gained from your experience with Policy Shapers?

The possibility of participating in LACNIC meetings and events is extremely valuable, as it allows us to strengthen our contact network. Many people are doing very interesting things across the region. However, sometimes it’s easy to stay focused on one’s own country and forget that the discussions surrounding the Internet are global. The challenges we face in Colombia are very similar to those faced in Panama, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, or Chile. Interacting with peers from other countries highlights opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. It also allows other people like me direct access to important representatives of the ecosystem to address any questions or concerns we may have.

Likewise, two interesting things that resulted from this journey with LACNIC and those connections are that I am now part of the board of the Internet Society “Youth Standing Group” and that, along with several colleagues who also participated in the program, I am part of the “Youth LACIGF” organizing committee. This shows that the programs serve as an incubator for connections and a catalyst for synergies.

How would you encourage other candidates to follow the path provided by LACNIC’s programs?

I believe we have the chance to reclaim a central position when discussing digital issues. In this sense, Africa and Asia are becoming increasingly important and Latin America is lagging. Despite the many millions of people in our region, I feel that the major conversations are moving elsewhere. We must somehow reclaim center stage; people must know what topics we are discussing, thinking about, and researching. And what better way to bring visibility than by writing and researching through programs such as those offered by LACNIC? We need to show why our projects are so important not only for the region but also for the world. Ultimately, it is clear that, through our projects, we are empowering the digital ecosystem of Latin America and the Caribbean.

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