[IRP] Some punch

Tapani Tarvainen tapani.tarvainen
Wed Oct 6 11:42:04 EEST 2010

On Wed, Oct 06, 2010 at 10:38:57AM +0530, parminder (parminder at itforchange.net) 

> In my opinion, one does not translate a set of human rights
> standards into a new charter of rights (and I agree information
> society may need a new, additional, charter),  as the present
> process or project seeks to do.

I must say I tend to agree, and I don't really like even my own
formulation here (the 3rd paragraph: "Hence this charter, not an
attempt to create new rights but..."). It would be better to state
the purpose of the charter directly, without such, er, disclaimer.
I can't offhand think of a good way to phrase it, however.

As for the right of access:

> It looks like both a logical and a political fallacy to say, one
> does *not* have a 'right to the Internet', however, if somehow one
> does manage to get there, one has the following rights.......

I didn't like the "... under affordable conditions" either, 
and my "affordable access" doesn't feel much better.
Yet it can be read as *stronger* than the obvious
"everyone has right to access the Internet" or
"everyone has right of access to the Internet".

The key point is, does that mean everyone should have
*free* access - that is, should someone (who?) be obligated to
pay for access for those who cannot afford it on their own.

Saying access should be "affordable" can be interpreted
either way: that it should be available to everyone at
a price they can actually pay (even if it's nothing
for some), or that it is OK to charge a "reasonable"
fee even if it means some people will be left out.

Likewise, omitting it can be read either way:
a negative right like traditional freedom of speech,
which doesn't mean anyone else is obligated to pay for
your means to say what you want as long as they don't try
to stop you from saying it,
or as a positive, subjective right that someone else
should pay for the means if you can't afford it.

As a matter of language, it would be much cleaner to
leave such caveats as "affordable" away, and since
as noted it doesn't really clarify the issue anyway,
I'd suggest we omit it like Parminder says,
and leave clarifications to part 2.

Not that clarifying it will be easy, even
agreeing on the substance, I fear:

> It is as if we are creating a new autonomous entity over the
> Internet, to which everyone *cannot* be accorded an automatic right

If we are talking about it as a positive right,
it indeed cannot in principle be guaranteed to everybody,
as reductio ad absurdum easily proves: if *everybody* just
demands it for free, who's left to provide it to them?

With a negative right there is no such problem, but then
it does implicitly limit it to those who can afford it.

In practice the situation is of course murkier.
Positive rights are generally spoken of with the implicit
assumption that there's tax money around being burned anyway -
which is of course generally true, and such rights are
then understood merely as prioritizing budget expenses.
Which is fine as far as it goes, but there is a danger:
that the unavoidable implicit caveat
"to the extent we (society/the government/...) can afford it"
trickles down to impact the negative rights as well:
from "you are free to say whatever you want as long
as you can afford it" to
"you are free to say whatever you want as long
as the society (according to government) can
afford the consequences".

In practice there may not always be much of a difference:
if you can't afford something it doesn't comfort you much
that you wouldn't be prevented from doing it if you could.
But some comfort it does offer, not only in the hope that
your finances may improve but also, especially about
freedom of speech, in that someone else may say what
you want to hear and be said.

In principle the difference is huge between right
to get something from the government (which is always
bound by limited resources and politicians balancing
budgets, unavoidably debated every budget year) 
and the right to do something regardless of governments,
limited only by your own means (which needs to be debated
only when writing constitutions or charters of rights).
I'd prefer to avoid language that confuses them.

Tapani Tarvainen

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