Meri Baghdasaryan

University of Pennsylvania 
Carey Law School
Master of Laws (LL.M) 
Huys Scholar 2020 

I truly believe that nowadays with the fast fading borders between our offline and online lives it has become imperative to keep the protection of our digital rights on the spotlight. Having been involved in the Internet Governance (IG) ecosystem for the last four years, I represented Armenia as a young professional in the multistakeholder process of making the Internet open, accessible and secure alongside with government officials, representatives of the international and civil society organizations, academia and technical community. I have been honored to make my contributions to the debates, enlarge my knowledge and establish cooperation with different stakeholder groups. Furthermore, I was privileged to make my contribution to the enhancement of digital literacy among the youth in various parts of the world.

Nonetheless, my experience made me realize that, unfortunately, the rights to privacy and data protection as well as freedome of speech are among the most commonly violated digital rights.While the digital technologies and online services provide us with an unprecedented number of opportunities for growth, innovation and communication, they have also created new realities with regards to, first and foremost, constant data collection and processing. Besides, the international data flows have presented new realities for regulation and new challenges for protection of the users’ rights. Moreover, issues with controversial online content moderation rules pose a risk of having a chilling effect on the freedom of speech, potentially also imposing undue burden on intermediaries and creating potential for censorship. Last but not least, the issues with information disorders have been exacerbated, resulting in various new forms of information manipulations and fabrications, harming not only particular lives of users, but also having major influence on democratic processes. Therefore, I firmly believe that human rights protection should be designed into the digital solutions and products we use every day as digital technologies and the Internet represent both an opportunity and a peril.

Having those issues at the core of my academic and career interests as well as striving to work towards their enhanced protection, currently I feel privileged and grateful to be admitted to 2 the LL.M program at University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. I am certain that the experience at Penn law would serve as an incredible and invaluable investment in my further advancement as after completion of the graduate program I intend to focus on the field of Internet Law and Policy. In particular, I will conduct strategic litigation in Armenia and on international level aimed at shaping the policies on such issues as data protection and online privacy, platform regulation, online content moderation, censorship, information disorders and intermediary liability. Additionally, I will use my enhanced skills to continue advocating for more sound policies on these issues in the IG ecosystem as well as in Armenia. In other words, I will dedicate my future professional activities to making the digital technologies and online services more responsible, so that applicable human rights norms and standards are respected.

Furthermore, my professional involvement in the IG processes led me to the conclusion that considerable efforts should be devoted to the enhancement of digital literacy among general population worldwide. This includes skills and knowledge to better navigate their online presence and participate in the online domain while staying safe, secure and informed about potential threats. In my opinion, it is especially crucial to tackle this issue in Armenia as the society struggles with low levels of digital literacy, which becomes particularly problematic in crisis or force majeure situations, such as COVID-19 pandemic or the ongoing hybrid war. Therefore, I truly consider it imperative to raise awareness on the potential risks and challenges as well as work on enhancement of digital literacy skills.

Hence, taking into account my extensive experience on enhancement of youth participation in the IG ecosystem and youth capacity building as well as putting the knowledge and skills I will gain at Penn Law to good use, as my short-term goal, I intend to implement a project for Armenian youth on digital literacy skills. It will consist of several sessions in webinar format using non-formal education methods to build skills and provide knowledge on such topics as basic fact checking, research skills and fundamentals of data protection for users. The project will involve collaboration with local Armenian organizations as well as interventions from international experts on the mentioned topics. While the results of awareness raising and capacity building initiatives are difficult to measure right away, to my mind, every project count and those initiatives have a significant multiplier effect, bringing along long-term changes.

Thus, I firmly believe that my experience at Penn Law will assist me in becoming more equipped to make a more meaningful contribution to the Armenian society and the IG ecosystem 3 as a whole. Moreover, I am thrilled to be a Huys Scholar and member of Huys Community, taking my next step towards enhancement of digital literacy and protection of digital rights.

I am aware that Huys Foundation is granting the Huys Scholarship to me with the anticipation of my good faith pursuit and implementation of the projects and undertakings described in this letter, to which I hereby commit.

Sincerely,
Meri Baghdasaryan