Not computers that
have rights, but people who use computers
Basic rights are
in Bill of Rights Act – freedom of expression, freedom of
Current issues –
denial of service attacks, content filtering, terminating internet
access as a penalty for breaching copyright etc. Liability of
internet providers (both ISPs, phone providers, google, facebook,
twitter etc). Nature and enforceability of court orders relating to
denial of service attack in "meatspace" required thousands
of protesters physically blockading buildings etc, now days a single
hacker running a botnet can shut down major government and corporate
websites in minutes.
Is a denial of
service attack on a website a valid and legitimate form of protest? Is it less legitimate because one person can have the same impact that would have previously required large groups? What if the attack is carried out by a large group who are both aggrieved and internet-savvy?
Filtering of child
porn content is generally not very controversial in any country. However when
McDonalds decided to filter out any homosexual content from their
free wifi networks this sparked massive controversy - contrast between accepted and unacceptable deviation from the norm of sexual preference.
consequences – e.g. women unable to find information about breast cancer
due to "breast" being a blocked word.
filtering – Pakistan blocks around 12,000 websites that host
content that is considered blasphemous to Islam, however on
examination many of these are political content and blasphemy laws
are just being used as an excuse to block them.
shutdown happen here like it did in Egypt? Absolutely it could, NZ
government has the same powers but just chooses not to exercise them
so far. Chinese government is much more active, and for instance can
remotely shut down mobile account if you send a text message
containing a blacklisted word.
both new spaces for rights and freedoms that did not exist before,
but also bring new restrictions and new ways for rights to be
infringed. Competing rights must be balanced; e.g. freedom of
expression vs right to silence.
What do human
rights online mean? Right to communicate freely with people who
share the same political views, safeguards against oppression.
Should access to
the internet be a human right? Maybe, but surely it ranks below
other services like electricity (which is something of a
prerequisite for internet access!) Internet access is important, but
argument that to compare it to basic human rights like right
to food, shelter, freedom from arbitrary detention and torture,
detracts from the importance of these more basic rights. On the
other hand, people who can't read or write still have the right to
vote and have special provision made for them. Also in remote parts
of third world nations it is not uncommon that communities who are
self reliant in water, food, shelter etc and do not have guaranteed
access to these, will nevertheless have access to the internet via
mobile devices charged using solar panels or windmill power, and for
these communities internet access is one of the only benefits that
the modern world makes available to them.
How does the
internet protect or promote your rights, and how does it make them
easier to repress? The "right to be forgotten" is
increasingly becoming important online, especially with sites like
facebook storing permanent records of information people may not
have wanted posted online in the first place.
The existence of a
right in itself is nothing, unless there is a community that
supports the access to those rights. Saying there is a right to
internet access does not mean there is a positive obligation on
service providers to give internet access to people who are unable
to pay for it. In Finland where internet access is a human right
under law, this is interpreted as meaning anyone who wants access to
the internet should be able to get it, but this does not mean there
is a right to internet at home without paying for it, so long as
there is free internet available at the library.
What forums can
these rights and freedoms be debated in other than in the relatively
closed environment of Parliament? Most human rights are born out of
populist social movements, but online movements which are scattered
across the world and debated primarily on online forums only, are
much less visible than thousands of protesters camped outside
Most of the people
who have the power to change the rules, still often lack the digital
literacy to understand the issues and why they are important –
"how does file sharing affect me when I don't download
Should telcos be
allowed to traffic shape by slowing down or speeding up data
depending on whether people have paid extra to make their site load
faster, or if the data is "undesirable" in nature, like
No concept of
access to the telephone being a human right, or the right to go on
TV to present your views. So what makes internet different, just
because so much is done online now days. Note that intention of the
laws guaranteeing free local calls in NZ was to ensure that the
public had access to telephones, even though this was not enshrined
as a human right.
because frequency spectrums are a public resource, there should be
some degree of public access to broadcast mediums, and the internet
is essentially another broadcast medium like radio or TV - albeit with a lower barrier to entry.
Rights always go
with responsibilities – so what are the fundamental
Access to internet
can be framed in terms of accepted human rights, primarily freedom
of expression and freedom of association, so question may be not so
much whether internet access is a human right, but whether it is an
aspect of existing rights. In relation to freedom of expression the
human rights framework was written with the intention that it would
apply to new types of expression and advances in technology, which
implies that having online content blocked or taken down would be a
breach of freedom of expression already.
Debate needed not
so much about whether new rights are needed, but how the existing
rights apply to the new situations that now exist.
Internet is a
privately owned public space, so any effective regime will have to
involve some kind of public-private partnership.
Access to the
internet by disabled people is an increasing issue in this area,
given that much online content is not readily accessible to people
who are visually impaired for instance.
Human rights can
be subject to limitations where needed, but these must be for
appropriate reasons and only as small a limitation as possible –
national security is commonly used in western countries as an
excuse as this is difficult to argue with, but more controversial is
when rights are limited to protect religious sensitivities or