[IRP] Outcomes of call on right to access/right to the Internet.

Lisa Horner LisaH
Thu Dec 9 12:43:54 EET 2010


Parminder ? I really think that we agree on everything, apart from wording and how we frame it.  I?ve always argued that we?re not just talking about rights *on* the Internet, but also about the ?capacity? of the Internet to support and expand rights...what architecture, quality, speed and modes of access will encourage the continued evolution of an Internet that offers the best, optimal prospects for fulfilling human rights for all.  And, most importantly, how to ensure that all people everywhere have non-discriminatory access to that Internet and the wealth of goods it offers and supports.  And of course meaningful access...people?s capacity to use, and also to shape the technology so that it meets their needs.  This all in turn implies we need a certain kind of regulatory and legal infrastructure to support all of this.   So it?s not just about rights on the Internet.

It?s because I take this approach that I argued two years ago for the coalition to expand its remit from ?rights? to also include ?principles?.  Within human rights law, we don?t have a human right to (for example) interoperability or open standards.  But we do have an established human right to, for example, freedom of expression.  And an Internet that is built on interoperable networks and technologies offers better prospects for fulfilling our human right to freedom of expression (and a whole range of other social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights).

So, through translating human rights standards to apply to the Internet and identifying principles that will help us implement those rights, the Charter isn?t just talking about human rights on the Internet.  We might think that all of those human rights and implementation principles taken together constitute a new ?right to the Internet?.  Whether we frame it as that or not, the content and purpose of the Charter remain the same.  I?m simply arguing that (a) because we?ve been taking the approach of applying the UDHR to the Internet and (b) because I?m really keen to build a broad coalition around the Charter, I would prefer to not include the ?right to the Internet? yet.  Moreover, I think we have to be a lot clearer within the group as to what this would mean, why we?re saying it, what it contains etc before we could include it.  And we don?t have time for that for version 1.1.

We are still saying that people have a ?right to access the Internet? in the current version.  Which for me personally is a leap of faith...I was previously reluctant as it?s not a UDHR right but rather flows from freedom of expression and other rights.  However, I?ve changed my mind as a result of all of the discussions on this list.  And access to the Internet is, in the contemporary age, a precondition for other rights...so I?m personally more comfortable referring to it as a right rather than just a principle as I previously argued.  But I think we?ll still have a bit of a battle to convince the human rights lawyers to accept it.

I really do think that this approach is internally logical, politically correct and, I hope, inclusive.  We?re by no means creating non-universal or club good privileges.  I think I?m fully on the same page as you in terms of goals and aspirations, as well as what we value the net for and think it should look like.  I just don?t want to call it a ?right to the Internet? at this stage.

However, I think Mike?s point that there is no evidence about which framing would be more strategic is a good one.  Which is why I personally think that we should leave the ?right to the Internet? out of 1.1, but consult people directly on it so that we can make a better informed decision for version 2.0.  Let?s talk to the human rights lawyers (I have been a bit already through Frank La Rue?s process, which has reinforced my slight conservatism on language due to the heated responses to the Charter).  Let?s talk to citizens ? Internet users and non-users in as many places as we can.  And I definitely want to talk to the W3C and technical community as Mike suggests.   We really do need a broad conversation about this.

I hope that helps to clarify my position a bit more?

All the best,

From: parminder [mailto:parminder at itforchange.net]
Sent: 08 December 2010 18:03
To: Lisa Horner
Cc: 'Michael Gurstein'; irp at lists.internetrightsandprinciples.org
Subject: Re: [IRP] Outcomes of call on right to access/right to the Internet.

Lisa Horner wrote:

A quick aside ? I have really serious concerns about including a right to the Internet at this stage, or at least making it a central component of the Charter.  Our objectives are to apply existing international standards to the Internet as progressively as possible, and declaring a right to the Internet goes beyond that.  I don?t think it?s a strategic thing to do at this stage if we want to build allies in the international human rights legal and advocacy community, amongst quite a large number of governments and in the private sector.  We?ve already had harsh criticism on these fronts, and I really don?t want us to fall at the first hurdle ? dismissed as being not credible ? when what we have in our Charter is so important and has the potential to build a strong and broad alliance between human rights defenders.  That?s not to say I don?t understand the arguments for including it...I feel I understand a lot more than I did before thanks to the discussions we?ve been having.  But at the moment we?re quite a small and unrepresentative group....I feel we?re at the cusp of changing that and are doing something incredibly useful and important here, but really don?t want us to shoot ourselves in the foot at this stage.


I think I am repeating but let me make the case again. I cannot see how we can speak of rights on the Internet without a right to the Internet. I think it is politically meaningless, and logically fails to measure to conception of rights.

What does it mean to say, I am not sure if you have a right to the Internet, but you have, say, a right to association over the Internet?

I did earlier give the example of how it would be like saying the LGBT community has a right to association, without being willing to admit a right to freedom of sexual orientation. The above is similarly meaningless, and politically empty.

IMHO, I cannot take any such set of Internet rights to qualify to be rights. This would be a misuse of the terminology of rights to express some non-universal (club good) privileges.

In any case all the opposition to such a umbrella right to the Internet that you speak of, in my understanding, will equally be applicable to a right to access the Internet. So either way we will have to reckon with this opposition/ reservations. Why dont we do by at least being internally logical and politically correct and inclusive. parminder

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