Root Access | Pursuing digital justice in the Philippines

Digital security concept

By JAN MICHAEL YAP
Bulatlat.com

The Philippines has long been deemed one of the social media capitals of the world with millions of users and hundreds of content providers via different social media platforms. Digital platforms are being promoted and expanded with potential far-reaching impacts across the Philippine economic, social, cultural and political spheres. This has especially been true with the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, where more and more people have relied on digital platforms and services for various needs such as banking, purchases, entertainment, and even public services. Given the ubiquity of digital artifacts and services and how ingrained it is in Filipinos’ lives, the notion of digital justice and bringing awareness to it becomes all the more vital.

Now what exactly is digital justice? The DIGITAL refers to data that is converted into digital format – ones and zeroes. JUSTICE is our call when we seek fairness, equity, accountability, and inclusivity. Almost everything is becoming digital: from manufacturing processes, agriculture, transportation, education, health, government, to the way we write down notes, gather and process information, and interact with our loved ones. The so-called digital revolution also brought with it issues of inaccessibility and the digital divide, walled gardens of proprietary platforms and knowledge, hyper-surveillance, lack of regulation, cybercrime, fake news, and hijacked democracies.

Due to this crucial need, the Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) formed the Philippine Digital Justice Initiative (PHDJ). It aims to unpack the characteristics, impacts, and ways forward of an increasingly digital world in the Philippine context. The PHDJ gathered inputs and sentiments from the Filipino ICT Community, policy makers and experts, the labor sector, the education sector, and Filipino netizens at large regarding digitalization in the Philippine context from a social justice lens. Through those consultations coupled by case studies, surveys, and observations, the Philippine Digital Justice Initiative was able to identify key digital justice issues relevant to the Philippines and thus able to form the Filipino People’s Digital Justice Declaration.

The Filipino People’s Digital Justice Declaration is a formal statement of solidarity and willingness to participate in pursuing and advocating for digital justice. The declaration is rooted on three principles based on the identified issues related to digital justice.

Firstly, digital infrastructure, services and artifacts must be democratized and made more accessible to the public. Every Filipino deserves equitable access to affordable, if not free, quality Internet services. The state must consider Internet connectivity as a public service, regulate it and ensure that it serves the interests of the Filipino masses. The Philippines must work towards having its own Internet infrastructure. The country must also maximize and mobilize its engineers, scientists and technologists to design and manufacture its own computing devices which can be used to access the Internet. Government must promulgate standards and regulations for digital and online services to ensure data privacy and security, as well as quality of service, and furthermore should develop or enhance its own digital and online services.

Secondly, information must be free from monopolization and totalitarian control. Filipinos must be able to use and experience various digital public spaces without being actively taken advantage of by any interest groups. A break from foreign dependence in hardware and software will ensure that developing technologies cater to the local demands and needs of Filipinos. Constant and sufficient government support for local research and education in ICT would not only ensure that digital spaces—both offline and online, tangible and not—are fit and made for the majority of local consumers, but will also encourage more Filipinos to participate in the digital sphere.

Data storage must be decentralized in order to mitigate the risks of any single institution monopolizing data, and exposing and compromising the people’s data. This must not, however, hinder the efficiency of data management and processing, and the services that require it. For Internet content to be accessible to everyone, the government must mandate proper translations of local web content into local languages. Digital platforms must not disenfranchise its users—both laborers and customers. Government institutions must further study the particularities and relations within the system of platform-based work. Data monopoly such as the one held by Facebook must be broken and other parts of the Internet must also be made available for free. No single website, service, or application should be favored.

Finally, the declaration emphasizes that data rights are human rights. To appreciate data rights as human rights, Filipinos must understand that the data about us are extensions of our identities. Without such comprehension, people tend to willingly and carelessly give away their data. Every individual has to be cognizant of their right to data privacy—to choose when and with whom they share their information. Exercising and protecting this right must not come at the cost of being denied service, or worse, harassed.

Our laws and policies must protect this right, and must not legitimize mass surveillance. Filipinos have the right to be properly informed of and have control over the collection, storage, processing, and transmission of their data. The government must prepare and equip the people with the knowledge, tools, and safeguards against possible ill effects of digitalization, automation, AI, and other social and technical changes. The government itself must have sufficient understanding and conduct thorough research in order to proactively respond to potential risks Filipinos may be subjected to.

The road to pursuing digital justice in the Philippines is a tough one especially with the current political, economic and health situation in the country. We hope the creation of the Filipino People’s Digital Justice Declaration will serve as a guidepost for future generations of connected and socially conscious Filipinos. Guided with the formula of arouse-organize-mobilize, we look forward to achieving digital justice in the Philippines. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Note: The Philippine Digital Justice Initiative is a project of the Computer Professionals’ Union together with the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Click here for the Filipino People’s Digital Justice Declaration. Organizations and individuals who are interested to be included as signatories of the Filipino People’s Digital Justice Declaration may email us at phdigitaljustice@cp-union.com

 

*Dr. Jan Michael Yap is CPU chairperson and director of Computational Genomics and System Biology Program and director of Core Facility for Bioinformatics, UP Philippine Genome Center.

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