A blog on why norms matter online

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Asian and European human rights experts agree on importance of human rights on the Internet

Speaking at the ASEM Human Rights Seminar, June 2012.

In late June 2012 I was at the 12th Informal ASEM Human Rights seminar on "Human Rights and Information and Communication Technology” (27 – 29 June 2012, Seoul). 

If you have little time, have a look, at least, at the plenary presentation of the the two rapporteurs which sketches pretty much what is state of the art in human rights and ICT - and identifies the most burning questions. 

If you have a bit more time and are interested in which answers the seminar participants provided, then read on. 

The workshop was committed to studying the "unprecedented impact on the promotion and enjoyment of human rights" of ICTs. 

Organized by the Asia-Europe Foundation, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (as delegated by Sweden), France and the Philippines, the 12th Seminar was hosted by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. 

As assistant to Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, one of the two co-rapporteurs (the other being journalist and media activist Dr. Madanmohan Rao) I was involved in the elaboration of the background paper. It's absolutely worth a read, as is the concept note prepared by the organizers. Both raise some of the most important issues at stake as we define how human rights should be applied to ICTs.

After the workshop the rapporteurs cooperated with the organizers in formulating Key Messages to EU and ASEAN countries, but which are definitely generalizeable. 
Among the 15 key messages that cover a broad range of human rights issues - from bridging the digital divides to ensuring corporate responsibility and clear menas of redress for violations of online rights -  we find

1. States should use international human rights mechanisms, peer reviews, and bilateral dialogue to keep up with their Freedom of Expression (FoE) responsibilities. Clear, transparent and effective mechanisms should be spelled out for judicial redress, dispute resolution and mediation if there are accusations of FoE violations. [...]
2. Governments should publish lists of blocked sites, and the restrictions they place on Internet service providers. [...]
3. Recognition should be given to countries and companies that affirm rights not just in the abstract, but rights on the ground. More countries should be encouraged to expand the Freedom Online Coalition and more companies should join the Global Network Initiative.
4. There is a need for a common, coherent and international understanding of the concepts of privacy and data protection that is fully respectful of human rights guarantees. [...] 
5. States not yet having privacy and data protection laws should adopt them – for reasons of human rights protection as well as for reasons of legal security and in order to facilitate trade in ICTs, e-commerce, and the general vitality of the ICT sector. Notably, States should consider the opportunity to join the Council of Europe Convention (No. 108) on Data Protection, which is open globally.
6. Internet gatekeepers, such as search engines and social network providers, are increasingly harvesting user data in order to monetize their services. Governments have a responsibility to provide – both for internet intermediaries and companies more generally – a regulatory framework under which the rights of individuals are protected from the profit-driven data demands from the private sector. Self-regulation is not sufficient. Privacy by design and privacyenhancingtechnologies should be promoted. Remedies of individuals against violations ofhuman rights must not only exist de jure but also need to be effective.
7. Effective remedies need to be provided on the various levels of regulation and people to be made aware of them. In particular, States should create independent data protection authorities and/or ombudsman institutions. [...].
8. Digital inclusion is a right for all humans. ICTs are assuming an increasingly central role in all aspects of human and societal development across the world. As a result the ability to access and make effective use of ICTs has evolved into a necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition for the progressive realisation of a wide range of human and other fundamental rights.
9. This central importance of ICTs translates into strong and clear obligations for Governments to work towards digital inclusion by, inter alia, coordinating and intensifying investment in infrastructure; exerting regulatory oversight to counter oligopolistic market structures; promoting open, non-discriminatory standards and universal design; providing targeted ICT education; protecting user rights and fair access to content; ensuring that alternatives to online services remain in existence; and leading by example and embracing open government principles – all with a particular focus on supporting the groups at risk of digital exclusion.
10. A pro-active, structural approach is required to close digital divides sustainably and prevent new ones from emerging in the context of rapid technological progress. [...]
11. Governments should actively encourage the development of localisation tools and technology for and by minority, ethnic and indigenous peoples. [...] 
12. Where appropriate, Governments should provide policy frameworks in relation to publicly-funded information and culture that actively encourage the use of open standards where appropriate (open source, open data, open formats, open licences, open access and open education resources) so to ensure public access and re-use of publicly-funded information and culture.
13. Governments should always consider public interest when considering amending or introducing new Intellectual Property [...]
14. There are concerns that international trade treaties such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) promote corporate interests at the expense of citizens’ rights, and the interests of developed countries over those of developing countries. [...]
15. Governments should ensure that the rights of users and public institutions—and the fundamental rights and freedoms such as freedom of expression, right to information, right to privacy—are positively affirmed in both domestic legislation and international agreements on intellectual property.
For more information on the excellent Seminar series, see ASEF's website.

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