We have recently witnessed a correlation emerge between the Internet and human rights, particularly in circumstances where freedom of expression and privacy rights are jeopardized by policies of state control and censorship. Turkish Law 5651 adopted on 4 May 2007 limits freedom of expression and narrows citizens’ access to information 2, and is a contemporary example of how state policies limiting internet access threaten other rights. International legal language furthermore considers human rights to be “universal and inalienable, indivisible and interdependent”.
The need for a rights-based conceptual framework in the discussion of Internet access and use is increasingly evident. This approach should be promoted at the highest political level, with special attention given to notions of sustainable development, the digital divide, multilingualism and ethics in cyberspace.
THE INTERNET AS A COMMON GOOD The Internet and the Right to Development The right to development, and academically and politically disputed concept, was selected as the overarching theme of the Internet Governance Forum 3. Its status as a human right is pending 4, and a the legal obligation 2 In the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Report on the Turkish Internet Law (January 11, 2010) Mrs. Miklos Harszti urged the Turkish authorities to amend or abolish the Internet Law.
3 The Internet Governance Forum’s (IGF) purpose is to support the United Nations Secretary-General in carrying out the mandate from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to convene a new forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue. It focuses on maximizing the Internet’s potential to boost social and economic well-being in developing countries.
4 A. Esterhuysen, R. Greenstein, “The Right to Development in the Information Society”, In : Human Rights in the Global Information Society, MIT Press, Boston, 2006, p. 285.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti of developed countries to provide development assistance to developing countries is being debated within the United Nations (un) 5. A rightsbased approach to development includes four elements : accountability, empowerment, participation and non-discrimination.
– Accountability refers to the identification of specific duties and dutybearers, which shifts development cooperation from the domain of charity to that of obligation, thereby requiring duty bearers to ensure access to a social good ;
– Empowerment means that development activities should facilitate and assist community efforts to improve their conditions and assume influence over their own destinies, by providing power, capacity and access.
As an example, the Global Information Society Watch 6 (GISWatch) recently studied fishermen from coastal villages in southern India who gained access to information on weather conditions and the market in their own language via mobile phone 7 ;
– Participation implies a high degree of inclusion of community, civil society, minority groups, indigenous peoples, women and others ;
– Non-discrimination and attention to vulnerable groups highlights the need to guard against reinforcing preexisting asymmetries of power and resources by prioritising disadvantaged groups.
These principles should be analyzed in light of the major themes put forward by the Internet Governance Forum. The goal would be to maximize the Internet’s potential to boost social and economic well-being for the greatest number of people in developing countries, through access, diversity, openness and security. Among these four principles, the issue of the access is of particular importance, considering its relevance – in relation to the internet’s potential – to the right to development.
In practical terms, access means that all individuals should be able to participate in the progress and benefits of technological development (Articles 26 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and 5 The legal basis for the right to development can be found in the following : Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 2(1) and 2(3) ; African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Article 2(1) ; UN Declaration on the Right to Development (1986) ; Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993), adopted at the World Conference on Human Rights ; and the UNDP Human Development Report for 2000.
6 See http://www.giswatch.org/about 7 S. Arunachalam, “Information and Livelihoods”, in Global Information Society Watch – Advancing Human Rights and Democracy, available online at http://www.giswatch.org Isabella Pierangeli Borletti that for developing nations to have internet access is a key economic and educational development tool. This objective, which can only be achieved through infrastructure, equipment and capacity-building towards universal web access, has been advocated under a number of slogans such as “broadband for all”, “universal service”, and “services of general interests”.
A number of national and international actors consider wide broadband coverage as crucial to fostering economic growth, especially in less-developed areas. Europe’s recognition of its obligation to provide all citizens with Internet access only highlights its disparity with developing nations.
The 2010 Millennium Development Goals Report – particularly Goal #8, To Develop a Global Partnership for Development – renders conspicuous the internet access gap, or “digital divide”, between developed and developing nations 8. In 2008, 23 percent of the world population used the Internet ; in the developing world it was only 17 percent. The digital divide also remained wide within developed countries. Furthermore, the report highlighted the “broadband gap” between those with high-speed connections and those with dial-up modems 9.
When the right to internet access is not granted and protected through the elimination of both structural and technological barriers, then the right to development is also threatened, especially now that internet access is perceived as a “fundamental right of all people” by 87 % of those who use the Internet and 71 % of non-users 10. In other words, the right to Internet can be considered part of the right to development.
8 See in this book : Adama Samasskou, Multilingualism, the Millenium Development Goals, and Cyberspace.
9 The report also explains that : “[a] challenge in bringing more people online in developing countries is the limited availability of broadband networks. Many of the most effective development applications of ICT, such as telemedicine, e-commerce, e-banking and e-government, are only available through a high-speed Internet connection. But a significant divide exists between those who enjoy fast access to an online world increasingly rich in multimedia content and those still struggling with slow, shared dial-up links. By the end of 2008, fixed broadband penetration in the developing world averaged less than 3 per cent and was heavily concentrated in a few countries. China – the largest fixed broadband market in the world – accounts for about half of the 200 million fixed broadband subscriptions. In most least developed countries, the number of fixed broadband subscriptions is still negligible ; service remains prohibitively expensive and inaccessible to most people. However, the introduction of high-speed wireless broadband networks is expected to increase the number of Internet users in developing countries in the near future”.
10 A poll for the BBC World Service (March 8, 2010) suggested that almost four out of five people worldwide believe that access to internet is a fundamental right. http://news.bbc.
co.uk/2/hi/8548190.stm Isabella Pierangeli Borletti The Internet and the Right to Education Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the right to education, a right reaffirmed in numerous other documents, including the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All, Articles and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights and Article 2 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. The international community also accepts that the right to education may be apply even outside the framework of these treaties.
Not only does education provide the skills needed to encourage innovation and boost productivity, it also increases economic growth. Knowledge is no longer simply a device, but an economic tool, and an increasingly knowledge-driven global economy means its importance will continue to increase. This has implications for wealth distribution on both global and individual levels : the growing gap between education-rich and educationpoor countries is being replicated at the level of household which evince a growing gap between skilled and unskilled individuals 11.
The right to build information technology (it) skills is subsumed with the right to education. This creates positive obligations on states and is closely linked to economic development and poverty eradication. These obligations are outlined in Article 2(2) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the provision of primary education to all on a non-discriminatory basis. The Unesco Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) also outlines these obligations.
The internet is also one of the most effective tools in ensuring that mdg #may be met : that by 2015 all children will complete a full course of primary schooling, possibly through distance-learning, which expands educational opportunities to a maximum number of people at minimum cost. Distance-learning is evolving, and the internet now constitutes a virtual classroom with intense interactivity and resource and information sharing, but for most developing countries, lack of infrastructures – power, equipment and literacy – means this technology remains out of reach 12. In addition, most educational content currently available online was designed in Europe or North America, and is not necessarily appropriate, content-wise and language-wise, for students in other 11 A. Clapham, International Human Rights Lexicon, Oxford University Press, 2005.
12 http://www.itu.int/newsarchive/wtd/2001/FeatureEducation.html Isabella Pierangeli Borletti contexts. But the fact that many universities are now shifting their existing distance-learning programs to the Internet shows its potential as a tool for expanding education.
The Internet and the Right to Cultural and Linguistic Diversity it evolution should offer new potential for all cultures and languages.
Yet its convergence with market globalisation instead emperils cultural and linguistic pluralism.
The un Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was the first legal instrument designed to protect minorities..
Subsequent codification of minority rights includes the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 27), the un Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities 13, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (adopted by the Council of Europe), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (osce – Copenhagen Document of 1990). In addition, many countries have created relevant laws, commissions and institutions to protect minorities, in some cases including the linguistic minorities.
Unesco’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001) made cultural diversity, or “common humanity heritage”, a pressing contemporary issue. The declaration rendered cultural diversity a concrete and ethical imperative that was inseparable from respect for human dignity.
Since the internet is today’s globalisation tool par excellence, it should reflect the broader effort to promote real cultural and linguistic diversity.
All languages, particularly of minority communities, should be vehicles for online culture and communication.
Although languages are disappearing, the principle of promoting linguistic diversity must be maintained and include all languages. The promotion of linguistic diversity in cyberspace should encourage content developments in all underrepresented languages, should promote the use of those languages as working languages, and should assist cyber-communities in 13 UN A/RES/47/135, 18 December 1992.
Isabella Pierangeli Borletti using them to communicate 14. In other words : as plurilinguism has no self-contained limit, the internet’s potential must be put to its fullest use.
Individual Rights and Internet Access :
The Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Freedom of Information In his 1998 report to the un Commission on Human Rights, the un Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression outlined the case against government regulation of internet access and content :
“The new technologies and, in particular, the internet, are inherently democratic, provide the public and individuals with access to information and sources and enable all to participate actively in the communication process. The Special Rapporteur also believes that action by States to impose excessive regulations on the use of these technologies and, again particularly the internet, on the grounds that control, regulation and denial of access are necessary to preserve the moral fabric and cultural identity of societies is paternalistic. These regulations presume to protect people from themselves and as such, are inherently incompatible with the principles of the worth and dignity of each individual” 15.
Now more than ever, power is in the hands of the informed. Citizens revolt and regimes are overthrown by the flow of information within and between countries ; the role of the Internet both as disseminator and as advocate is increasingly significant. Information has become not only more powerful, but also more accessible 16 ; what was historically the prerogative of the few is now potentially the tool of the many.
The un Special Rapporteur recently issued a press statement expressing concerns regarding internet-specific legislation adopted by South Korea, in particular the Framework Act on Telecommunications, and the Act on Promotion of Information and Communications Network Utilisation and 14 M. DIKI-KIDIRI, Towards real linguistic and cultural diversity in cyberspace, http://www.
portal.unesco.org 15 UN Doc. E/CN.4//1998/40IIC4.
16 According to J. Baudrillard (S.F. Glasner), Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor : University of Michigan.