RightsCon Toronto 2018 Submission Guidelines

Each year, the program is created by you – the vibrant and diverse RightsCon community. RightsCon Brussels had the biggest program yet, with more than 1,500 attendees from 105 countries, participating in more than 250 program and Demo Room sessions. RightsCon Toronto will be even better, with an intuitive program that tackles multiple issues from start to finish, led by our diverse and expert community.

Organizing a program session provides the best opportunity to connect with leading experts from around the world to discuss the important issues relating to your company, organization, government or community, develop best-practices or policies, and much more. A program session could be a policy discussion on an emerging problem, an advocacy strategy meeting for creating new campaigning tactics, a demo of a new civic tech initiative that promotes democratic participation, or a workshop on how to fundraise as a civil society organization and improve operational development.

Please note that proposals undergo a careful evaluation and selection process with the help of our Program Committee, and that competition is steep. For RightsCon Brussels, we received 500 proposals. We encourage you to put forward creative, challenging, timely, and agenda-shifting proposals. Refer to the following submission guide to best prepare your program session proposal for RightsCon Toronto 2018.

At RightsCon, we believe that intimate, outcome-oriented, interactive convenings are the best way to facilitate dialogue, develop networks, and foster post-conference action. We want all our sessions to be participant-driven, and we encourage you to think outside the traditional panel/audience format. We are looking for session ideas that challenge pre-existing beliefs, push timely topics and issues, and engage with participants across stakeholder lines. RightsCon is the place for bold session proposals that have stated objectives, targeted outcomes, lively debate, and forward-thinking content.

A staple of RightsCon, the Demo Room is the highly interactive and exciting home to lightning talks, tech demos, and workshops. The Demo Room allows participants to improve existing internet freedom technology amongst a community of peers, highlight the successes and gaps of current tools for human rights actors, and join workshops led by technologists and users at risk, including investigative journalists, activists, and other human rights experts.

The RightsCon Program is very extensive, reflecting the rich and diverse set of issues facing human rights in the digital age. Therefore, we organize sessions by Program Tracks to help participants navigate the event. In a way, there are multiple conferences all taking place all under one roof. We create the Program Tracks based on the final sessions that are accepted, representing the most timely and pressing themes in human rights and technology. To help with that, we've devised 17 Program Buckets to submit your proposal under, inspired by our previous programs. The Program Buckets for RightsCon Toronto are:

  • Digital Security and Encryption
  • Countering Online Harassment, Hate Speech, and Violent Extremism
  • Internet Freedom, Network Disruptions, and Censorship
  • Misinformation, Journalism, and the Future of Online Media
  • Diversity and Digital Inclusion
  • Privacy, Surveillance, and Data Protection
  • Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Algorithmic Accountability
  • Health, Environment, Land, and Labour
  • Net Discrimination, Connectivity, and the Internet of Everything
  • Corporate Social Responsibility, Transparency, and Accountability
  • Trade, Innovation, and Intellectual Property
  • Digital Tech and Sustainable Development
  • Civic Tech, Citizenship, and E-Governance
  • Philanthropy, Funding, and Operational Development
  • Internet Governance, Institutions, and Jurisdiction
  • The State of Global Civil Society

After the submission deadline, the RightsCon Program Committee will evaluate and review each proposal based on specific criteria (see below). High-quality proposals may be accepted in their original form, while others may be recommended with specific changes (different format, increased diversity, and such). Program Committees may also recommend merging two or more session proposals together if they identify strong commonalities. Unfortunately, not all proposals will be accepted. Once the agenda is set, sessions are scheduled into time slots and allocated rooms. This year, we've extended the deadline for proposals. Submissions are now due23:59 Pacific Time on December 4th, 2017. Status-of-proposal announcements will be made in late January 2018.

  • Diversity: Does the proposal feature speakers from a diverse range of backgrounds and communities? In particular, what is the the geographic, gender, and stakeholder diversity of your proposed speakers? Proposals that lack a commitment to diversity are less likely to be accepted. RightsCon will not accept any 'manels', period.
  • Relevance and Importance: How relevant is the proposal to the broader RightsCon agenda? Does the proposal successfully address an important challenge or issue facing human rights in the digital age? Is it a timely issue?
  • Outcomes: Is the proposal likely to engage participants in a way that inspires real-world outcomes (e.g., new policy approaches, partnership opportunities, campaign ideas, or innovative technology solutions)?
  • Originality: Does the proposal introduce new voices, new concepts, or a fresh take on an issue?
  • Collaboration: Does the proposal have the potential to initiate or encourage constructive cross-sector collaborations?
  • Format: Is this the best, most innovative format to present the idea and generate outcomes?


Roundtables are an opportunity to have a substantive discussion among no more than 20 people. A roundtable might bring company executives face-to-face with frontline activists or a civil society coalition to think through how best to respond to the next emerging challenge to or opportunity facing the advancement of digital rights. Roundtables may or may not have audiences observing the discussion. Key questions:
  • What are your intended outcomes?
  • Who do you want to have involved?
  • How will your roundtable be moderated?
  • Will your roundtable be public or private?

Skill Seminar

Skill seminars are training seminars or workshops focused on developing practical skills relevant to digital rights and tech advocacy work. They are facilitated sessions that teach new techniques to participants, strengthen their professional capacities, and ultimately help advance their work in digital rights advocacy. Examples: ‘Develop an advocacy toolkit’, ‘How to gain media attention and break through on your issue’, or ‘How and why to use PGP encryption for beginners’. Key questions:
  • What is the skill or takeaway you want to help teach?
  • What are the intended outcomes? What will happen during the workshop? Who will facilitate it?
  • How will you get people to show up?


Panels at RightsCon should employ a discussion-oriented format, with panelists responding to each other and to the audience throughout the session. PowerPoints and other presentations are not allowed. Your panel should address a new idea or provide nuts-and-bolts guidance on how to implement a specific policy. A moderator should lead the discussion to balance speaking time between panelists and the audience, and to act as ‘disruptors,’ so as to ensure that the panel is inclusive and challenges multiple viewpoints. Key questions:
  • What idea do you want to discuss on your panel?
  • What is the outcome or consensus you’re hoping to come to?
  • Who will be on the panel? Potential speakers should be notified prior to submission. While panelists do not need to be confirmed at this time, please note if they are.
  • Who will moderate?

Tech Demo

A Tech Demo is an 8-15 minute hands-on presentation of a new technology, tool, or technical project. Key questions:
  • What is the technology that you want to demo and what about it is new?
  • Who will be presenting?
  • Who is your audience, and what is their assumed level of knowledge?
  • How will you get people to show up?
  • What do you hope people will have learned?

Lightning Talk

A Lightning Talk is an opportunity to give a 5-15 minute presentation on a provocative new idea, initiative, or challenge to the RightsCon community. Lightning talks should be well-rehearsed, engaging talks that use limited visuals. Key questions:
  • What idea do you want to discuss during your Lightning Talk?
  • Who will be presenting?

Fireside Chat

A Fireside Chat is an intimate and direct conversation between two or three people on stage, usually in the plenary room. This is an opportunity for experts to dive deep on a major topic or to have a broader conversation on where the space is going, for example. Want to see two of your favorite thinkers debating, but don’t know them personally? Submit anyway, and we’ll see what we can do! Key questions:
  • Who do you want to see on stage?
  • Will the Fireside Chat be moderated, and if so, by who? (Moderation optional)
  • What idea do you want them to discuss?
  • How will their interaction help you in your work?
  • How will their interaction help the community understand an issue?


A workshop is an interactive session focusing on a single issue or question. Workshops are designed with the audience participants, and should provide ample opportunity for discussion beyond simple Q&A. The format uses a banquet-style table setup (multiple 10-person tables), so is ideal for networking-style events, or sessions that transfer small-format discussions to the entire room. Key questions:
  • What is the idea or question you want to discuss?
  • What are the intended outcomes? What will happen during the workshop? Who will facilitate it?
  • How will you get people to show up?

Fishbowl (or, ‘in the round’)

Fishbowls (also known as ‘in the round’) are participant-driven “roundtable-like” sessions, except there’s no table in the room. Our most popular session format, fishbowls foster interactive and substantive discussion amongst participants in the room. Need to problem-solve an issue? Trying to hash out a campaign strategy? This format is for you. Key questions:
  • What are the intended outcomes?
  • Who do you want to involve?
  • How are you going to moderate it?

Private Meeting

Pretty straightforward. This year we’re equipped to handle more requests for bilateral / private meetings between different organizations. We will be taking requests for private meetings up until May 2018, but if you already know who you’d like to meet with, let us know. Key questions:
  • Who do you want to meet with? How many people do you think will be in the room?
  • Do you know them already or do you need an introduction?
  • What are you hoping to accomplish?
  • Why is RightsCon the right venue for this meeting?

Off-the-Record AMA

Taking inspiration from Reddit, an Off-the-Record AMA (Ask Me Anything), provides a safe space to have a candid, extended question-and-answer session. We’re welcome to taking submissions from people who want to host an Off-the-Record AMA as well as from folks who have ideas on an Off-the-Record AMA they would like to participate in, but don’t know the relevant speakers personally. Key questions:
  • Who do you want to attend?
  • What do you want to talk about?
  • Why do you want this to be OTR?
  • What new audience will you speak to that you otherwise wouldn’t?
  • What are the intended outcomes?


A debate is an opportunity to challenge conventional wisdom and go head-to-head with the “other side” on the merits of argument. The form of the debate (e.g., Oxford, Parliamentary) is up to you. We encourage debates to take on some of the more challenging questions facing the internet and human rights, as to distinguish itself from a panel discussion. High-level, lofty ideas for debates are highly welcomed. Key questions:
  • What’s your argument, and how is it different than common wisdom? Alternatively, what’s a great debate that needs to be confronted?
  • Who do you want to debate against?
  • How will this advance the conversation?
  • Who will moderate?

Something we haven’t thought of

We are only human! If you have a unique format suggestion, send it through!

The Art of Admission: How Mobile Apps Are Documenting Court­-Admissible Evidence of Human Rights Violations

Session Format: Panel


Please describe what you want to do in your session
In this session, we will bring together panelists from Physicians for Human Rights’ Medi-Capt team, the International Bar Association’s eyeWitness team, and the People’s Intelligence, each of whom are in varying stages of developing or rolling out a specialized mobile app aimed at collecting, documenting, and preserving court-­admissible evidence of human rights violations. These respective apps are intended to be used globally, especially in resource­-constrained, conflict or post­conflict contexts. Some of the apps will require functional authorization and support from the host government to be used for local prosecutions and other apps, by necessity, will need to be used without the knowledge of the local governing authority.

The panelists will each briefly share an overview of their app, and some key challenges they face regarding the feasibility or usability of the app in the field. The objective of the session is for the panelists to identify (i) legal, (ii) technological; and (iii) ethical struggles they are experiencing. Panelists will exchange ideas, share lessons learned and, in collaboration with active participants in the audience, work toward articulating innovative approaches as well as new collaborations and strategies for responding to those challenges. The panelists will launch the discussion, but the substantive session is designed to be very interactive, and will solicit engagement and concrete, solutions-­oriented feedback from key participants in the audience, including investigators and trial attorneys from the International Criminal Court and other relevant courts or tribunals, human rights activists, as well as ethicists, technologists, and privacy specialists, and government officials, among others.

Who will be joining you in this session (if applicable), and have you confirmed their participation?
We aim to have the following three panelists:

  • Karen Naimer, Director, Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones at Physicians for Human Rights to speak about MediCapt, a mobile app designed to help clinicians collect and document forensic medical evidence of sexual violence [confirmed];
  • Wendy Betts, Project Director, International Bar Association, to speak about eyeWitness to Atrocities, a mobile app with the unique capability to authenticate and securely store footage of gross human rights abuses, while maintaining the anonymity of the user [confirmed]; and
  • Christophe Billen, the founder of the People’s Intelligence, who will speak about the PI app that will automate the collection of relevant humanitarian and human rights information from hard to access areas and verify it using crowd­sourcing and “dumb” mobile phones [not yet confirmed].
  • The discussion will be moderated by Alexa Koenig, executive director of the Human Rights Center, Berkeley Law School [confirmed].

We hope to have the following participants actively engage in the discussion:

  • Investigators and trial attorneys from the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other tribunals;
  • Civil society activists (Amnesty International, Witness, Open Society Justice Initiative, JustPeace Labs, and other members of the Tech Advisory Board for the ICC);
  • Leading activists from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other members of tech and privacy groups; and
  • Ethicists, technologists, privacy and security specialists, and legal specialists (who might use the information collected as evidence).

What outcomes would you like to achieve with your session, and how will you transition these activities into post­-conference action?
This session offers panelists and audience participants a rare opportunity to learn about the new phases of development with these apps, exchange concrete ideas in a frank and candid manner on the opportunities and perils of piloting these apps in hostile and low-­resource environments. These lessons learned and strategies exchanged will directly inform the way forward for the panelists. The discussion will also create a space for participants in the room to understand more deeply the panelists’ projects and how to more effectively engage with them and each other. This session will allow for deeper collaboration across professional sectors and missions as a way to overcome some of the challenges articulated and panelists and participants both will be sensitized to potential concerns or critiques as well.

Each of these apps occupies a unique space on the cutting edge of mobile tech and human rights. Rather than working in isolation, this panel discussion offers the essential opportunity to harness our shared learning, cross­-pollinate ideas, and leverage the progress being made on each of our projects. This discussion will directly impact how these apps are rolled out and implemented in the field going forward.

Amplifying the voice of marginalized communities at the intersection of technology and human rights

Session Format: Workshop


Please describe what you want to do in your session
In the space of online expression, association and assembly, marginalized communities—LGBTI people, religious minorities, and women face an increasingly disproportionate share of discrimination, harassment and even violence, according to the latest edition of Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2015 report. In Bangladesh, four bloggers have been brutally murdered in this year alone for posting secular content, while 14 countries have censored LGBTI content on the basis of moral or religious grounds, e.g. Lebanon blocked an online Lesbian forum used throughout the Arab world. Women also face a disproportionate amount cyberstalking, blackmail and harassment via technology.

At RightsCon 2016, Freedom House will integrate traditional human rights activists representing marginalized communities—LGBTI people, religious minorities, and women—into the digital rights sphere, helping to bridge the divide and ensure that specific ICT issues affecting marginalized communities are heard.

Freedom House proposes a panel with activists and researchers at the intersection of technology, internet governance and human rights with active audience participation in order to address questions such as the unique threats marginalized communities face online, how technology can both mitigate as well as facilitate these threats, how tech companies can be a partner to marginalized groups in the advancement of human rights and intermediary liability.

Who will be joining you in this session (if applicable), and have you confirmed their participation?
Freedom House will sponsor a group of international activists representing marginalized communities to attend RightsCon and will involve them on a panel discussion moderated Freedom House staff to elevate new thinking around internet freedom issues so that stakeholders may better answer this central question: What does it take to empower marginalized groups, which must overcome structural inequities and cultural biases to be on equal footing with more mainstream users, to be able to securely use ICTs in the full exercise of their rights?

The panel will consist of activists and researchers involved in documenting human rights abuses against marginalized communities and those advocating with public officials to mitigate structural biases in internet governance in this regard and will hail from countries such as India, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, and/or Tunisia.

What outcomes would you like to achieve with your session, and how will you transition these activities into post­-conference action?

  • More consistent integration of marginalized communities—LGBTI people, religious minorities, and women ­­ in discussions of technology and human rights
  • Raise the visibility and value of civil society members conducting research and advocacy at the policy and discursive intersections of human rights, marginalized communities and technology
  • Increase involvement of the high tech community in human rights advancement in online/digital spaces

Manila Principles: One Year Later

Session Format: Workshop


Please describe what you want to do in your session
Last year at RightsCon, the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability were launched. After one year, the global threats facing intermediaries—and, more importantly, their users—are greater than ever. For example, there is considerable political pressure in Europe to raise new obligations for intermediaries who host illegal content "actively" rather than "passively", such as establishing a duty of care, and making Content ID and notice­ and ­staydown compulsory. These measures would result in a further chilling of users' speech and a narrowing of the space available for the exercise of their human rights online.

There will be no panel presentations in the conventional sense. Instead the workshop will be divided into three main segments:

1. The first and shortest will be to re­introduce the Manila Principles for newcomers, to recap how they have been applied during their first year, and to outline the current challenges that we face. This session will also announce some high profile new endorsements for the Principles which will extend their reach and reputation.

2. We then move into the second and longest segment, which will require participants to break off into small groups to discuss strategies for using the Manila Principles to counter current threats to users of intermediaries' services, such as the platform consultation in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation also in Europe, and unfavorable national intermediary liability regimes such as in Austria. This segment will close with the sharing of strategies and a facilitated mapping of future collaborations.

3. The third segment and final will be to introduce the Manila Principles' next generation document, which is a draft template notice of alleged illegal content, designed as a tool for intermediaries to use to contact their users. The notice, although not compulsory for those who endorse the Manila Principles, is intended to be complementary to it, and would standardize the information that users receive, ensuring that they are not fed misleading or incomplete information.

Who will be joining you in this session (if applicable), and have you confirmed their participation?
The following individuals have expressed interest in participating in the session, to be finally confirmed following acceptance of the workshop:

  • Kyung Sin Park, Open Net Korea, Korea, male
  • Jyoti Panday, CIS, India, female
  • Gabrielle Guillemin, Article 19, UK, female
  • Rebecca McKinnon, Ranking Digital Rights, USA, female
  • David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, USA, male
  • Giancarlo Frosio, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School, USA/Italy, male Nicolo Zingales, Tilburg University, Netherlands, male

What outcomes would you like to achieve with your session, and how will you transition these activities into post­-conference action?
The outcomes of the second segment will shape our joint work on further outreach and advocacy work around the Manila Principles, and hopefully may spark some ideas for future side ­projects that the Manila Principles steering committee hasn't even thought of yet.

How the third segment will transition into post­-conference action will depend on what stage the template notice has reached by then. Our hope is that it may have proceeded far enough that we can finalize and launch that document at the workshop, which would provide a nice symmetry for the first anniversary of the Principles. If not, then at least we will use feedback gathered at the workshop in finalizing the notice soon after.

Access Now is committed to making RightsCon Toronto 2018 accessible and open to all, which means we are doing our best to make the conference inclusive for participants and speakers from all over the world.

If your session has been accepted as part of the RightsCon Toronto Program, or if you are associated as a speaker in a session, you will receive a menu of discount codes to use for your registration. Due to the nature of this conference, in which a high proportion of the people attending are participating, we are asking that those speakers with the means to do so pay for all or a portion of their tickets. Speakers and session organizers will have the opportunity to receive complimentary tickets.

If you are a speaker or a session organizer representing a company, a funding institution/foundation, government, or an established NGO, we ask that you consider purchasing a ticket at full cost. In doing so, you are helping Access Now support the attendance of activists and technologists who would otherwise not be able to attend. If you are interested in attending, are not part of the program, and have difficulty paying the registration fees, please email us at conference [at] accessnow.org and we will share discount codes. Our policy is that the price of tickets should never prohibit attendance at RightsCon.

Access Now is a not for profit, 501(c)(3) organization that relies upon the support, investment, and generosity of a variety of stakeholders in order to carry out its mission. This ticket policy helps ensure that we can continue to defend and extends the digital rights of users at risk around the world.

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