In a recent op-ed for The Hill Times, Citizen Lab founder and director Ron Deibert urges the Canadian government to support the digital rights of LGBTQ2+ individuals around the world. This call comes on the heels of recent Citizen Lab research which shows that Netsweeper, a Canadian company who has received funding from the Canadian government, is being used by governments to block access to content in ten authoritarian countries around the world, including LGBTQ2+ sites.
In some cases, Netsweeper helped facilitate such blocking by allowing operators to filter websites according to an “alternative lifestyles” category. This limits access to non-pornographic LGBTQ2+ sites, including some dedicated to spreading life-saving health information about HIV/AIDS prevention. According to Netsweeper’s own documentation: “This includes sites that reference topics on habits or behaviors related to social relations, dress, expressions, or recreation that are important enough to significantly influence the lives of a sector of the population. It can include the full range of non-traditional sexual practices, interests and orientations. Some sites may contain graphic images or sexual material with no pornographic intent.”
As Deibert writes in the op-ed:
“We are calling on the [Equal Rights Coalition], and the Canadian government in particular, to condemn the online censorship of LGBTQ2+ content, which violates international human rights law, and recognize that internet filtering technologies used to target LGBTQ2+ content have serious human rights impacts. We urge that they commit states to taking specific and measurable action to prevent and address the censorship of LGBTQ2+ content, in line with international legal obligations and domestic law and policy. And we request that they affirm that internet-filtering technology providers, like Netsweeper, have a responsibility to respect the human rights of LGBTQ2+ persons by ensuring their products and services do not facilitate censorship of LGBTQ2+ content, and to provide a remedy when such censorship occurs.”