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Human Rights and the Internet

Human Rights and the Internet

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Discussion Papers > Human Rights & Internet Governance > Response: Raúl Echeberría

Responses - Stakeholder Technical & Academic Community

Raúl Echeberría, CEO of LACNIC, the Latinamerican and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry

We have been talking about human rights and the Internet for years, first within the framework of the WSIS and then at the IGF. People often ask what is intended by "Rights and the Internet" and I have even heard some people question the meaning of this expression.

Raul Echeberria.jpg
Raul Echeberria is one of the founders of LACNIC and has been it's Executive Director since 2002. He has been actively involved in the entire process of the WSIS, participated between 2004 and 2005 in the WGIG, is member of the IGF’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group and served as Chairman of ISOC’s Board of Trustees between 2009 and 2012.

From my point of view, when we speak of Rights and the Internet, we are speaking of what must be done so that the Internet will not only be a place where those rights are respected, but also, mainly, so that the Internet can be a catalyst for the exercise of Human Rights.

At LACNIC we promote an Internet at the service of the social, economic and human development of our societies, and this objective can not be achieved without respect for the rights of individuals and, therefore, without respect for individual liberties.

As Shirin Ebadi says in her article, freedom of expression is a basic right for democratic coexistence. In recent years, the growth of the Internet has introduced a key element for promoting the exercise of freedom of expression.

In countries where communications have traditionally been controlled, citizens have found a new form of expression, one that often violates the firm limits imposed on their rights. Therefore, the Internet as a space for freedom has become an essential tool for channeling popular sentiment.

Ms. Ebadi very accurately states “Once people are informed about the events, they will not stay indifferent and will claim their rights and hold their governments responsible.” This, however, has not gone unnoticed by some governments of totalitarian regimes not characterized by their respect for human rights and, thus, we have lately seen several attempts to tighten control of the Internet to reduce the spaces of freedom that have been conquered, or, using Ebadi’s words: “They try to decrease the positive effects of communication technology”. This is something that can probably be successful in the short term but it is doubtful that it can succeed for long.

During the Arab Spring we witnessed how taking the Internet away from the people was not only wrong from a moral standpoint, but it was also a bad idea for those who sought to use this measure as a means to block the flow of information and limit the people's ability to express themselves, since the only effect that the measure of limiting connectivity had was to further motivate people to go out onto the streets to call for their rights to access.

In Latin America and the Caribbean there is a fairly widespread view in terms of respect for individual freedoms. We feel that the various Internet stakeholders are well aligned behind these notions of freedom. We moreover feel that this alignment has led the majority of players from the region to oppose initiatives that seek to achieve greater control of the Internet and to limit the rights of individuals, regardless of the origins or motivations behind these proposals. Of course, there may well be a few exceptions to this rule.

Interestingly, such initiatives are not the only current source of threat to the right to Freedom of Expression. There are at least two other sources of concern that we can identify. The discussions taking place this year in several countries on legislative and policy proposals to protect intellectual property rights, like PIPA, SOPA or ACTA among others, have shown how, in countries that supposedly respect freedom of expression, there are groups willing to put that right at risk in favor of protecting other rights which, in the opinion of these groups, have equal or greater value than freedom of expression. In the opinion of this author, this is not only the wrong approach but a very dangerous one as well. Placing the commercial rights associated with the protection of intellectual property on the same level as the right to freedom of expression would mean a potential setback for humanity.

Freedom of speech is also being attacked from another flank. As the Internet has become so important to mankind as a place where countless economic, government, education, and other activities are conducted, the concern for the safety and stability of the Internet has, logically, also grown. The security of information systems, network stability, the fight against cybercrime, identity theft, and child pornography are currently some of the top concerns for many Internet players.

Internet organizations have always advocated a strategy of increasing coordination and collaboration efforts as the best and most efficient way to address these problems. Clearly, however, there is no unique global vision on this and some stakeholders, justifying their actions behind the pursuit of laudable goals such as security or the pursuit of cybercriminals, are proposing measures to increase control, thus threatening the privacy of users and potentially limiting their freedom of expression.

International debates often place the rights to privacy and freedom of expression as a counterweight to Internet security and stability. It's as if to improve Internet security, we must make sacrifices in terms of the exercise of these rights.

This reasoning is incorrect. Far from having to improve one of the terms of the equation at the expense of another, the real challenge is to improve both: we must improve Internet security while at the same time enhancing the exercise of human rights on the Internet.

So far we have been working on how to adapt the Internet to society, promoting access, promoting content availability, and encouraging its utilization. Now comes the time to adapt society to the Internet. The Internet has changed the way we do business, has changed our teaching methods, how we interact in society, and will have huge impacts on government systems.

Now society must learn to live in this new era, taking maximum advantage of the benefits of technology in all human activities. This poses enormous challenges, which we must face on the basis of the core values that have made the Internet the success that it is. The dilemma is whether or not we want to take advantage of the opportunities that the Internet offers to provide growing freedom. In this author's opinion, the answer is obviously Yes.

Shirin Ebadi’s final reflection in her article is really a key point: “..it is worth mentioning that the internet has already opened many doors, however many people around the world are still behind these doors and do not benefit from its advantages. We should think of a mechanism to enable everyone to profit from internet without limitations and discriminations”

Every Internet stakeholder has something to do in that respect. Let’s assume our responsibilities in a collaborative framework.

Gordon Süß
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