This past June, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a nonbinding resolution in June that defines free and open access to the web is a human right and in strong terms “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online”.
The four page document, which you can read here (PDF), takes a broad view of the Internet’s importance, from its empowerment of “all women and girls by enhancing their access to information and communications technology” to “[facilitating] vast opportunities for affordable and inclusive education globally”. It even affirms how the expansion of telecommunications technology has the “great potential to accelerate human progress”, an observation most denizens of the Internet Age can attest to.
The report also calls on the global community to develop a “comprehensive human rights” framework for expanding the web, with public policies and multilateral cooperation that is transparent and democratic.
Over seventy countries, from Honduras to the United States, supported the resolution, but several others stood opposed, including authoritarian nations such as Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia (which controversially sits on the council) and democracies like India and South Africa. Their main contention was the provision condemning governments that interfere with their citizens’ access or use of the web. Unsurprisingly, these are the same states that are generally repressive towards all forms of media and expression, though the presence of relatively well established democracies like India and South Africa is concerning.
It is worth pointing out that this resolution, like most others issued by the U.N., is not enforceable legally or in practice. legally. It is intended to provide guidelines for the nations of the world, support for citizens and NGOs, and pressure on dissenting governments (which, like individuals, can and do succumb to the influence of their peers — although also like many individuals, they can remain steadfastly contrarian).
The U.N. Human Rights Council has no shortage of problems and shortcomings, but on this matter, to my mind at least, it is certainly right. As it rightly affirms, the Internet is a medium of communication and expression like any other, and the same human rights we aspire to uphold offline are just as relevant online. As information becomes the lifeblood of our service-oriented economy, and as the web subsequently grows into a driving force of globalization and global consciousness, it is about time that we start to create newer and more just and conducive standards towards developing it.
What are your thoughts?