A blog on why norms matter online

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I'm a Post-Doc Fellow at the Cluster of Excellence "Normative Orders" of the University of Frankfurt and lecturer at the Institute of International Law of the University of Graz, Austria. I've studied international law in Graz, Geneva and at Harvard Law School. I enjoy thinking and writing about Internet Governance and discussing and shaping the future of the Internet

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tracing Normative Influence: From the Charter of Internet Rights and Principles to the Italian Declaration of Internet Rights

One of the key bottom-up normative approaches regarding human rights online in the last years was the Internet Rights & Principles Coalition's Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet. The Charter has been a very influential document in the framing of the debate on human rights online. 

In a blog post on the Coalition's site, which I am reproducing below, I argue that the influence has also been substantial for the most recent national multi-stakeholder effort to frame the role of human rights online (and Internet governance).

"On 28 July 2015, Laura Boldrini, the speaker of Italy’s House of Deputies announced the publication of Italian Declaration of Internet Rights. She called it the “first time that a parliament produces a declaration on Internet rights of constitutional inspiration and international scope”. Drawn up in a multistakeholder process the drafting phase also included multiple drafts, the last of which was also discussed on the IRP list in March of this year. 
The study commission behind the Declaration was led by Prof. Stefano Rodotà and included experts such as Juan Carlos De Martin, co-founder and co-director of the Nexa Center for Internet & Society (read more on the process here). Though the Declaration is an impressive document on its own, Prof. De Martin confirmed that the Commission’s first step was to synthesize “previous efforts”. He especially highlighted the importance of the IRPC’s Charter of Human Rights and Principles of the Internet, as being “the most important and mature” normative efforts towards stratifying human rights on the Internet. “After one year of work, a 5-month public consultation and 46 hearings, the study commission has shared with the international community a potential blueprint for an Internet Constitution”, Professor de Martin explains. “As private and public powers increase their presence in our common digital space we urgently need to assert and protect the rights of citizens online to preserve both democracy and freedom,” he adds. 
 Not only was the IRPC Charter a source of inspiration for the Italian Declaration, but both documents share similar approaches to human rights and their role in furthering a people-centred and sustainable information society. Charter and Declaration also transcend the artificial separation of social and economic and civil and political rights.
In particular, the Italian Declaration reaffirms that all fundamental rights apply offline just as online (Art. 1) and that every person has a right to Internet access (Art. 2). Innovative codifications include Art. 6. on the right to informational self-determination and Art. 9 on the right to be forgotten. Art. 14 gives a nod to the international dimension of protecting human rights online by providing that “Internet rules” on all levels need to be human rights-sensitive.What is also striking is the holistic focus on human rights and the centrality of the right to access. Article 1, para. 1., cleverly incorporates existing human rights law by referencing the UDHR, the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter, “national constitutions and other relevant international declaration”. These “shall be protected on the Internet”. This allows the authors to refrain from reiterating the rights and allows for certain flexibility, but does leave some normative uncertainty as to the concrete rights referred to. There are, after all a lot of “relevant international declaration”, especially if you count, as you should, those by stakeholders other than states, including the IRPC’s Charter. 
But the Commission has chosen to take a different normative route focusing on new rights (informational self-determination) and Internet-related concepts (net neutrality). Its starting point, however, is a locus classicus: access. The Declaration underlines, in Art. 2, para. 1, that access to the Internet is a “fundamental right of all persons and a condition for their individual and social development”. This is in line with a broader trend on both the international and the European level away from the consideration of freedom of expression and privacy as über-rights on the Internet and towards the realization that all human rights are interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing – offline just as online. 
Indeed, being able to access the Internet – and Internet content – is an essential condition for personal and social development, not only for the expression of one’s views. Threats to access are threats not only to freedom of expression, but rather to the whole gamut of human rights. Art. 2., para. 2, provides that all persons “shall have the same right to access the Internet on equal terms, using appropriate and up‐to‐date technologies that remove all economic and social barriers.” Though it is unclear to me whether it primarily technologies that remove social barriers. Isn’t it rather social barriers, such as poverty, that impede access to technologies? 
We need social change to ensure that digital divides to not continue to broaden – and, admittedly, technology can help in that. And more importantly, in the usage of technology, poverty or minority status or membership in a disadvantaged group must not impede access. This thought also carries Art. 3, para. 3, of the  Declaration: “The fundamental right to Internet access must be ensured with respect  to  its  substantive  prerequisites,  not only as the mere possibility of connecting to the Internet.” Access to the Internet and access to Internet content go hand in hand. The Italian Declration on Internet Rights is a helpful reminder."

Read the whole Declaration here.
For more on the Italian Declaration, see Stefan Rodotà’s article here.

(Disclaimer: I used to be Co-Chair of the Coalition and am now a Steering Committee member. I am also, with Wolfgang Benedek, co-translator of the German translation of the Charter.)

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