transfer 26(4) » Neue Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien

Human Rights in the Digital Space

Identifying constraints on Digital Rights in Palestine

This thesis investigates the factors constraining digital rights in Palestine.

Digital rights refer to “the fundamental human rights that are relevant online” (Fatafta, 2018, p. 6). The academic urge to investigate human rights in the digital sphere lies on the threat of the cyber-world as a new space of control, where old authoritarian oppression practices can be amplified through digital technologies and with the approval of private platforms.

Particularly, researching digital rights restrictions is relevant because the cyberspace affects societal change and collective action, therefore online restrictions translate into restrictions on the ground. The choice of Palestine as a case study is related to the essential role of the digital sphere for counterbalancing Palestine’s geographical and political fragmentations and oppressions.

The methodology relies on qualitative content analysis on a sample of 21 publications drawn from NGOs, institutions, and academic journals.

The analysis classifies three actors accountable for digital rights restrictions: states, private platforms, and online users. A closer look at each actor reveals the constraining factors. This work identifies a double system of state oppression limiting digital rights, as both Israel and the Palestinian Authority adopt measures of over-regulation, surveillance, control over the ICT infrastructure, and collaboration with private entities. Private platforms restrict online freedom through censorship – including a biased content moderation on social media, the reduction of visibility, and content takedowns – and a system of vague regulations, reflected in the unclear terms of service and double-standard policies. Users’ online activity limit digital rights through hate speech, disinformation, and smearing content.

Further research is needed, as the recognition of the constraining factors behind the effective violation of digital rights is necessary to address the issue in a systematic manner to the international community and to ensure a fair addressing of regulations.