[IRP] APC rights charter / Internet bill of rights

Parminder parminder
Wed Jun 17 18:49:39 EEST 2009

Hi All

First, a comment on the APC Internet rights charter. As is universally 
recognized, it is one of the most comprehensive work in this area. 
However, we think the time has come that we replace 'affordable' access 
to the Internet' to 'a right for all to a basic access to the Internet'. 
It is on the lines of UDHR's treatment of primary education, which is 
seen at a different level than higher forms of education. Access to 
primary education is considered as a right, to access free of charge if 
necessary, and if the context demands.

In most other areas, civil society is supposed to lead in formulating 
new areas of rights and then often as a consequence of great amount of 
struggles these are incorporated in constitutional and legal systems. 
However in case of basic access to the Internet as a right, it is indeed 
unfortunate, and perhaps instructive of some structural issues with the 
civil society/ other actors active in this arena, that governments seem 
to have picked up this 'right' before civil society, and the latter is 
still ambivalent on this issue. EU/ CoE seem to have gone furthest but 
sentiments favouring basic internet access as a right are expressed by 
many in government circles, including in the US. Why cant we make up our 
mind on this. What really are our problems with seeking 'a right to the 
Internet' which starts with a 'right to basic access to the Internet' 
and will go on to include basic skills, content etc? I think we need to 
discuss this issue here.

The second comment I will like to make is on this dichotomy between old 
and new right, something which I have never been able to understand. 
What could be the basis of freezing the political evolution of our 
societies as it was at a certain point in the middle of the last 
century. What if someone insists that the freeze should be applied at 
some much earlier point, when our societies were semi-feudal. I am not 
being sarcastic, I really have never been able to understand this 'lets 
stick to the existing rights' position. Any further clarification will 
be very welcome.

Is is that if the WHO and others today get together to formulate a 
'right to health' we will be against it as formulating a new right? Such 
a right apart from having an impact on development policies, can also 
have an significant impact on global regimes like of IPR in areas of 
essential drugs. What about disability rights, they are also 'new' in 
many respects? Are we against these new rights, including the 
path-breaking work done recently in negotiating a UN convention.

I also cant understand this distinction between global legal human 
rights and national level political rights. All rights are political. 
And if anything a right, if instituted, is more 'legal' at the national 
level than at the global.

Any freezing of the political evolution of our societies is a partisan 
political stand. And it is disrespectful of the numerous popular 
movements in the developing world that have used the language of rights 
to make new claims, to fight various kinds of exclusions and 

 > if we change the "rights" to "shoulds", whilst keeping each section 
under the UDHR rights...

Lisa, I understand that you are advocating that all  'rights' not 
mentioned in  UDHR  should be expressed  in the language of 'should' and 
not 'rights'. In that case, you would be against using the terms 
'disability rights' and 'right to health'. I dont think many in the 
global progressive civil society will be ready to go with such a stance. 
I am laboring this point because I think this represents a difference 
which is very basic in how we see the emerging information society. 
People I work with see it as a new emerging social paradigm, with 
fundamentally altered social realities in many aspects, which often 
requires new social contracts, implying new rights. The basis of equity 
and social justice that underpins all rights frameworks remain the same, 
however. It is this framework that needs to remain unchanged rather 
their contextually derivative concepts of 'rights'.



Lisa Horner wrote:
> Thanks for your detailed reply Anriette - it's really helpful to give the editing process a bit more context.
> My personal take on the "new/old" rights debate is that the charter would still have popular appeal if we change the "rights" to "shoulds", whilst keeping each section under the UDHR rights...so it'd be a real translation of international rights standards for the internet age.  I think it wouldn't detract from popular appeal, would still be pushing the boundaries in terms of calling for maximum rather than minimum standards, and would also have the added benefit of bringing "new rights skeptics" on board!  I also think it would make the charter still stand as an important advocacy tool, but in addition would make a better platform for dialogue with business and government stakeholders. 
> But as you say, any decision or discussion on this shouldn't alter the content/spirit of the work.
> The inclusion of communication rights in the constitution of Ecuador (and Jaco's example in Costa Rica) is fantastic.  I was working with Agora Democratica in Ecuador recently and heard first hand about the work done by Valeria and others.  But the work is part of the process of translating international legal *human* rights into national civil and political rights. The provisions in the constitution are effectively translating the human right to FoE expansively and enshrining it in national law.  Basically, I think it's really important to distinguish between international human rights and national political rights.  As this is an international charter and we already have international legal rights, I think the focus should be on translating those to apply to the medium of the internet. 
> But I'm not a lawyer either!  Maybe those on the list who are (and aren't!)could feed into the discussion.  Without of course distracting from the important process of defining the substance of the principles/rights, which is something I will get on to contributing to shortly!
> All the best,
> Lisa
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Anriette Esterhuysen [mailto:anriette at apc.org] 
> Sent: 15 June 2009 11:55
> To: Lisa Horner
> Cc: rights at lists.apc.org; irp
> Subject: Re: [IRP] APC rights charter / Internet bill of rights
> Dear Lisa
> A few answers from me. Other colleagues from APC can add. We are all a
> bit swamped right now as we are en route to board and staff meetings in
> Argentina, finishing our audit, board reports and so on :)
>> Sorry for joining this discussion so late, and thanks again to APC for
>> inviting our participation in the review of the charter.  I just have
>> a couple of questions to the folk at APC, and a couple of wider
>> comments/questions?
>>  APC - Would it be possible to give us a bit of background about why
>> you?ve decided to review the charter? 
> This is the second major revision of the charter. The charter was first
> developed in 2000/2001, and revised in 2006. 
> Because we tend to use the charter as a frame of reference in our policy
> advocacy we are quite aware of its strengths, but also its weaknesses.
> We have always assumed that it would need to be udpated from time to
> time and work as a living document. But perhaps there is a different
> route, and you kind of describe that below.
> Conceptually however, because the APC charter is premised on the
> 're-interpretation of existing rights frameworks' in contemporary
> contexts, it would need to be updated from time to time as these
> contexts change.
> On Fri, 2009-06-12 at 14:15 +0100, Lisa Horner wrote:
> Hi all
>>  I think that might help guide the editing process.  What was the
>> process of creating the original charter, and are there any specific
>> issues that you think now need to be addressed?
> The charter emerged from two processes: (1) APC's first internet rights
> project in Europe, dating back to 1999. This was a time when civil
> society activists first realised that the internet was not going to
> remain free and open. Who remembers Echelon?
> (2) APC's regional ict policy monitor projects in Latin America and
> Africa, which started in 2001 and focused not just on human rights on
> the internet, but also access and affordability.
> We needed a 'checklist' to help local organisations involved in policy
> analyse and advocate from a rights perspective (a lot of new ICT
> policies were being formulated at the time, particularly in development
> countries, but also at regional level in Europe). 
> We were part of earlier processes, notably Cees Hamelink's people's
> communications charter, but we felt that we needed something new, and
> internet specific. Not long after the APC IR charter came out CRIS also
> drafted a charter, which we participated in.
> But tactically APC decided to avoid the conflict between the 'old
> rigths' and 'new rights' movements prevalent at the time.
> Therefore our charter is rooted in the principle of re-interpreting
> existing rights. You can read more about how we developed this approach
> in a bottom-up way with our members in Asia, Africa and Latin America in
> "Involving civil society in ICT policy" which APC co-published with CRIS
> in 2003.
> http://www.apc.org/en/pubs/research/policy/all/involving-civil-society-ict-policy-world-summit-in
>>  Did you have feedback from different people about what might make it
>> more useful, and how do you envisage using the charter in the future? 
> Both versions were developed in a rush. The first one perhaps more so
> with the primary authors being APC staff who were not rights experts.
> The second draft had some input from a human rights lawyer and on, e.g.
> privacy, from a privacy expert.  But still most of the writing was done
> by us.
> In general we get extremely positive feedback from people working at
> national level on the charter. They feel it helps them understand what
> is meant when people talk about human rights on the internet. And it
> helps them think about what kind of policies they want, or that they
> don't want.
> We were amazed by the spontaneous way in which APC members and partners
> translated the document into multiple languages.. (22 or 23 now). We
> felt the document still had loads of weaknesses, but for many people it
> made a lot of sense.
> We tried to bring it to the attention of the 'Bill of rights' group from
> the outset, but it was only when Max took this on board that we
> succeeded.
>>  Finally, is there a timescale/deadline for this?
> That is up to you and this group. The updating is now a collective
> process. But always a good idea to set a timeline.
>> IRP coalition members ? When the coalition name changed from ?bill of
>> rights? to ?IRP?, there was a fairly large contingent of people who
>> were keen to still work on an internet bill of rights.  But there
>> haven?t been any responses to this invitation from APC to work on this
>> charter.  Is there any reason for that?is this the kind of thing that
>> people had in mind?  Or is it just a case of not having enough time?I
>> know we?d all like more of that!
>> Finally, I was wondering about the use of the term ?rights? in the
>> charter.  I personally fall into the camp of people saying we don?t
>> need new rights for the internet ? just that we need to interpret and
>> apply the human rights that are already enshrined in international
>> law.  I think that initiatives like this charter are an important way
>> of doing that, and I realise that the charter explicitly says that
>> that the new rights are rooted in the UDHR.  But for me, the
>> statements in the charter are ?principles? that flesh out the meaning
>> of our human rights in the context of the internet.  I think that a
>> wider range of people might engage with the charter if we simply
>> change ?all people should have the right to?? to ?all people should be
>> able to? or other such language.
> Yes, if we stick to the principle of reviving and re-interpreting
> existing rights that would be the way to go.
> Personally, my own perspective is rather open at the moment. 
> As a human rights activist (not expert) I started working on the APC
> Internet Rights Charter believing very strongly in not arguing for new
> rights.
> However, with recent success in Ecuador where APC and other
> communications networks argued sucessfully for the inclusion of
> information and communication rights in the new constitution I am
> beginning to wonder if the anti-new rights stance does not make
> political sense.
> The truth is, as the purist human rights organisations who don't like
> talk about 'new' rights know... the UDHR is not that widely respected,
> or enforced. In many countries where governments are actively anti-human
> rights one could potentially get further by adopting a 'new rights'
> approach.
> This is a question of strategcy and tactics, and does not mean we should
> change the spirit of the charter... but it should be kept in mind.
>> This may seem like semantics, but I think it might make a significant
>> difference to how the wider human rights community and other
>> stakeholders view the charter.  However, I?d still like to participate
>> in this process if we stick with rights.  But I just wanted to open
>> the discussion up to see what people think?
> My personal wish for this process is one that I have had since working
> on the first draft in 2001....  to strengthen the document so that it
> has greater credibility and robustness in terms of existing rights
> frameworks - but without losing its popular appeal.
> I want the involvement of people that have expertise in international
> law, in human rights law, that understand the mechanics of legal and
> rights language, but that are also willing to accept that they can be
> quite alienating in their approach and use of language.
> My question is, I guess, if we can combine this approach with the kind
> of popularisation of internet rights awareness that we have been fairly
> successful in?  
> We still need a charter that can contribute to building a global
> movement, and that can be used on an everyday level at national level by
> people who are still struggling for these rights.
> Anriette
>> All the best,
>> Lisa
>> From:irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org
>> [mailto:irp-bounces at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org] On Behalf
>> Of karen banks
>> Sent: 23 May 2009 08:48
>> To: anriette at apc.org; Max Senges
>> Cc: irp
>> Subject: Re: [IRP] Right to Freedom of Movement: Partnering with APC
>> to review the Internet Rights Charter
>> hi all
>>> One quick question: should we use our mailing list as communication
>>> channel for discussions about changes or do you have a seperate list
>>> setup?
>> Or, just use the wiki?
>> We do have a list setup - rights at lists.apc.org - which might be easier
>> to use for discussion - as opposed to comments on charter revision..
>> are people happy moving discussion to rights at lists.apc.org ?
>> you can subscribe here:
>> http://lists.apc.org/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/rights
>> karen
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