PIR Found To Respect Human Rights As First gTLD Registry To Undergo Assessment

Public Interest Registry (PIR) has become the first gTLD registry to undergo a human rights assessment with ARTICLE 19 and the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) collaborating to guide the .org registry in its human rights efforts. The report was largely positive, finding PIR’s “policies and operational procedures respected human rights so they cause few negative impacts.”

PIR, who operates the registry for .org, .ong and .ngo top-level domains and four other IDN transliterations, is the third domain name organisation to undergo a human rights assessment by ARTICLE 19 and DIHR following the .nl registry SIDN and Irish registrar Blacknight.

ARTICLE 19 and DIHR analysed and reviewed PIR’s policies, operations, and safeguards to assess what is incomplete, missing, or could be improved based on its responsibilities under the international human rights framework. They also looked at the company’s relationship to the environment and local communities.

Overall, the assessment which commenced in January 2020, found PIR’s policies and operational procedures respected human rights so they cause few negative impacts. Most importantly, PIR had already set clear statements around ethics and morals as well as clear commitments to privacy and due process. But they also found PIR does not have a human rights policy or an explicit commitment to international human rights in its existing policies, an important first step toward proactive human rights due diligence as is best practice.

According to the report from ARTICLE 19 and DIHR, they found PIR:

  • already had set clear statements around ethics and morals as well as clear commitments to privacy and due process.
  • as an employer often goes beyond state and national legal requirements, and generally lives up to international standards and recommendations. This particularly includes matters relating to labour law, especially on issues of working hours, wages, and leave.
  • has yet to draft a partner and supplier code of conduct to create a structured approach for consideration of human rights in its procurement processes and supplier relationships.
  • was aware of its impact on the environment and the potential related human rights impacts and was working to mitigate them (e.g. in relation to extensive travel) and has begun taking a more structured approach to its impacts.
  • has a number of policies aimed at reducing negative impacts of its own measures in relation to domain suspensions and takedowns, as well as policies aimed at limiting the potential harms caused by registrars or registrants, e.g. in relation to child sexual abuse materials (CSAM).

Additionally, ARTICLE 19 found that, at the time of the assessment, there could be more involvement of external stakeholder groups, including rights holders, in the assessment of impacts of products, services, and policies.

There were also some recommendations which cut across the entire organisation that PIR should:

  • develop and incorporate a human rights policy or an explicit commitment to international human rights in its existing policies.
  • update its employee handbook and related policies to explicitly address human rights and restate its privacy protections and expectations.
  • develop up a Business Partner/Supplier Code of Conduct that clearly sets out PIR’s expectations around human rights and that can be used to improve the practices of the third-parties with whom PIR engages.
  • ensure that its annual report has data shared with a human rights focus.

“While the function of registries is often seen as strictly technical, their activities do, as nearly every entity, have a potential human rights impact,” ARTICLE 19’s Senior Programme Officer Ephraim Percy Kenyanito told Goldstein Report. “They have a role in the Internet infrastructure and with that, are one of the parties that are increasingly approached by rights holders and law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of intellectual property rights and addressing illegal activities.”

“Registries, for example, regularly receive requests from governments to redirect websites with unlawful content to the websites of law enforcement agencies. However, doing so may impact the right to freedom of expression and access to information. At the same time registries publish data with respect to domain registrants and other which may impact the right to privacy. Because of this scenario, more internet infrastructure companies should do similar assessments to ensure they are responsibly governed in the public interest.”

Following the review and discussions with the Article 19 and DIHR analysts, PIR identified a few areas for improvement and are working to address them. In particular, PIR announced in a blog post by Paul Diaz they intend to:

  • Incorporate an explicit commitment to international human rights in our existing policies. While our standards and processes already reflect such support, taking such an affirmative step will underscore our commitment to human rights.
  • Publish a new Appeal Mechanism for registrants of PIR-managed domain names. We will establish a process that creates a right for registrants to have a suspension of their domain name under the PIR Anti-Abuse Policy reviewed by a neutral third party. That will strengthen the principles at the foundation of our anti-abuse efforts, in particular the observation of due process.
  • Publicise a new Vendor Standards of Behavior document. This will set out our expectations of those who provide us goods and services. PIR always has set high standards for the way we conduct business. In turn, we’ll make clear in writing that we expect our vendors to conduct business responsibly, transparently, and with integrity.
  • Ensure our Annual Report includes data with a human rights focus. PIR already reports take-down statistics and law enforcement requests for information. In the future we’ll also highlight internal procedural adjustments that better reflect accepted human rights standards and/or to address any negative impacts of our practices.

In conclusion, Diaz noted “one of the principles of being an exemplary registry is a continual focus on getting better. For that reason, PIR appreciated the opportunity to work with ARTICLE 19 and DIHR on our human rights impact assessment. We look forward to working with these partners on educating the ICANN community, in particular domain name registries and registrars, on the importance of respecting human rights and remediating any negative impacts.”

“Together we hope to encourage other Internet infrastructure providers to engage in their own human rights due diligence and accelerate the growing commitment to respect human rights.”

The model Registry/ Registrar Human Rights Assessment Tool from Article 19 and DIHR, which is some 25 pages if printed, is available here [pdf].

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