Making human rights work in the digital world

Reporting from workshop 8 at EuroDIG: What role can human rights play in internet governance? – The main topic of the workshop was bringing human rights to a reality. How can we make sure that human rights are being valued in the Internet? With an aid of the ‘charter of human rights and principles for the internet’ in hand, the moderator Dixie Hawtin introduced the panelists Bill Drake from University of Zurich, Meryem Marzouki from European Digital Rights, T. Tapani from Electronic Frontier of Finland and lastly, Eric Thompson from ISoc.

2011 is considered to be critical in the moment of internet governance. Thus it is important to address the human rights of the internet and whether, for instance, the public should have access to broadband internet at high speed as a basic right. Is it possible for us to exclaim that simply lip service is being paid to the topic, or can we really believe that an order is being applied as an infrastructure for the internet? Is it some law or our law?

Bill discussed what the boundaries are within the internet. Which impacts can be negative and national level policies that could be restricting freedom of expression and privacy, due to the government being key players. Internet governance is not specific, which causes issues for everyone, but we need to ask who will have the power to decide what is important in terms of people’s rights. For example, can we ask whether it is correct to territorialise the virtual world through filtering and creating borders? The interests tend to cover human rights vs. the technologists and also the public vs. the governmental interests.

Meryem discussed that the charter of rights for the Internet is in working progress and that we all need to have a holistic vision of what human rights really are. We must consider the economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the right of development. Outside of the internet, one has the right to the freedom of expression, but this issue is the difficulty of transposing it to the realm of the internet. It is therefore important to discuss this matter with organizations, NGOs, businesses, governments and the public to create common interests. In 2005, the Council of Europe released documents about the details of the information society and working towards putting the topic on the global agenda for common good. Furthermore, the vision includes closing the digital divide and increasing digital literacy, as well as addressing the rights of children and the disabled community.

The discussion was then opened up to the audience, to which Max from the Summer School explained the issue of a Lithuanian prisoner who would like the right to study a degree, but obviously internet access would be needed for him. The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, as essentially there is a right to be educated, to freedom of expression and participation in society – but how can these be exercised without web access? Patrick from Cisco added further that you have limited phone call access within prisons, so how can we enforce law of the internet, which is indeed the ‘most free’ dimension of life, as a right for humans? Is this an intrusion of our dignity? Meryem extended the discussion to the fact that the internet is not simply an information tool, it is a conversational tool, and people are beginning to rely on this fact.

Tapani discussed that human rights often do not work well with problems of child pornography, hate speech, terrorism and gambling. He discussed in detail the issues of filtering child pornography networks and how it can create more abuse, simply by the perpatrators finding ways of creating new networks. Filtering has no impact on the trade and allows it to carry on in other ways, as it just hides the problem not getting rid of it. What happens to unregulated information in the open, borderless space of the internet? Rights created in the ‘real’ world do not translate well, and are almost useless in the virtual world.

Eric discussed the important issue of protecting multilingualism within the internet structure, as it is the grave effect from the phenomenon of globalisation. To begin with, Agenda 32 exclaims that indigenous languages should be protected in ICT, which will therefore impact whether the language is protected in real life or not. There are 65 alphabets in the world, which are all different from the latin script, and often have more than 63 characters. This creates issues for writing codes and platforms for development become limited. There are no keyboard layouts that cover all alphabets, thus, it is mostly languages of the latin script that become dominant and people are pressurised into learning these, instead of preserving there own. Will there be any progress in creating a multilingual cyber space? He discussed further that there needs to be distribution of content and involving human rights, especially in mobile platforms, as there is great development in this domain. Should there be a right to protect it, even if it is difficult to mediate? Is it possible to imagine a treaty with rules and regulations to protect these minority languages, which includes the importance of freedom of expression?

One last point expressed by a UNESCO representative is how to promote the use of the internet and multimedia dynamics to communities who mainly use their language in an oral fassion, instead of in script. This would be another interesting point to follow.

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Tweets to EuroDIG 2011