Internet Rights v. Human Rights

During the course of history, the United States Constitution has been amended in order to achieve the best interests of the nation and citizens. However, technological advancements have posed as obstacles to the changes as internet and human rights have recently become issues.

What is the relation between the Internet and Human Rights?

As of now, approximately 40% of the world’s population has access to the Internet. Because of its extensive reach, the Internet has become a basic component of human life. It encompasses an individual’s freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, and other fundamental factors. Civil liberty and human right groups have expressed their concerns regarding the increase in government’s control and power. For example, on April 21, 2015, Senate Bill 1035 was introduced, which seeks to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act for five additional years. This means that there would be continued data collection and surveillance programs. As such, groups like Human Rights Watch have expressed their concern towards NSA’s violation of privacy rights.

Is expression via the Internet a human right?

Over a decade ago, the United Nations decided to take action towards universal access to information and communication systems leading to the WSIS Declaration of Principles to build a society around information and technology. However, the federal Constitution seeks to protect traditional mediums of expression (e.g., speech, assembly). With new outlets for expression (e.g., television, radio, web), the United States has faced continuous changes in regulation. With the rise of power within the private sector running parallel with online activity, human rights groups have begun to advocate encryption as a method to protect privacy. For example, super-intermediaries, like Google, hold much power comparable to the government and operate on a global scale. This is where tension between A2K (i.e., Access to Knowledge) and protecting the rights to use that knowledge as a freedom of expression arise. The lack of cooperation between A2K and human right efforts might be a catalyst in the ambiguity of online freedom and access.

Is restriction of information on intermediaries considered a violation of human rights?

Because communities have grasped the concept of power in the physical world, but not yet the technological world, it is difficult to assign legal responsibilities to such intermediaries that operate as government-like entities. A super intermediary, like YouTube, has the power to block or remove content, which raises the issue of whether corporations are subject to human right laws.  Although, western super intermediaries dominate cyberspace, they are still not state actors that are subject to all parts of human right laws.  In fact, the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does mention that the freedom of expression comes with certain responsibilities and restrictions.

The Global Network Initiative has attempted to create a formal framework of human rights intended for intermediaries in order to limit such problematic restrictions.  Nonetheless, international disagreements require a case-by-case analysis, as content censorship is still controversial.

At our law firm, we help inform clients regarding human rights protection on the web. You may contact us in order to setup an initial consultation.