A blog on why norms matter online

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Whatever States May Do to Curtail Human Rights, the Internet Will Prevail, Says UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue

Yesterday the final workshop of the 5th Initiative on Human Rights and the Internet of the Internet & Society Co:llaboratory took place at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Berlin. As thematic lead of the initiative I had the pleasure to help coordinate 30 experts over the last three months - and the privilege to gather, with them, some cutting edge insights into human rights protection online. 
I will, over the next weeks, post key findings from the initiative intermittently, as we develop our final report, to allow readers to have a say on some of our key thesis. 
These include that the Internet does not  change human rights protection as such completely. Offline rights are online rights. Offline human rights violations are online human rights violations. Legitimate interferences with human rights offline can be made applicable to online scenarios. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, but rather to give it some new breaks, necesseary for the breathtaking speed of development online. 
This echoes what Carl Bildt, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, said at the first-ever panel discussion focusing on the right to freedom of expression on the Internet which was held by the UN Human Rights Council on 29 February 2012. "Freedoms and human rights that we cherish in the off-line world", he said, "must also be protected in the on-line world.” What cannot happen, he warns, is that “as we switch on to the online world, we switch off our freedoms.”
On the contrary, switching on the computer, accessing your data stored in clouds with your mobile phone, or signing it to a social networks means switching on your online rights.
We've also noted that, as a second central outcome of the Initiative, the Internet creates new avenues of information and spaces of communication and thus becomes a lens through which people see the world, engage with it, develop their ideas and ideals and can mobilize (and be mobilized) for good (and bad).
Thirdly, we conclude that the Internet can and should be the central ethical foundation and legal anchor of any Internet Governance approach. This is important for the process of operationalizing the Internet Governance principles which will be undertaken in 2012.
We are rather happy with what we've achieved and I am especially looking forward to finalizing the report and pulling together the thematic strings.

In the course of the Initiative I've also had the privilege to speak to one of the most visionary experts on intenrational human rights protection online, Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, (I've blogged about his powerful reports before).

I'll write more about the interview at a later stage, but I can't help but share his final words. "Whatever states will do", he said, referring to state attempts to curtail human rights online, 
"they will fail. The Internet is such a powerful messenger. Technology evolves so rapidly. States won't keep pace with users. The Internet will prevail as an open space of communication and the free flows of ideas".
After three months of studying human rights online within the Initiative (and many more months of studying them as a researchers) I can only support his sentiment. Expressing ourselves on the Internet, in La Rue's words the new "plaza mayor" of the world, is an importan emancipatory act. 

Stay tuned for more from the initiative. And, I can tell you that, stay excited.

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