Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Internet Freedom and Human Rights: Maintaining the Practice of Open Communication and Continuing the System of Multi-Stakeholder Management of the Internet Can Help Advance the Principles Expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Magazine article Issues in Science and Technology

Internet Freedom and Human Rights: Maintaining the Practice of Open Communication and Continuing the System of Multi-Stakeholder Management of the Internet Can Help Advance the Principles Expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article excerpt

In the 63 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world has been implementing a global commitment around the rights and freedoms of people everywhere, no matter where they live or who they are. And today as people increasingly turn to the Internet to conduct important aspects of their lives, we have to make sure that human rights are as respected online as offline. After all, the right to express one's views, practice one's faith, or peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an Internet chat room. And just as we have worked together since the last century to secure these rights in the material world, we must work together in this century to secure them in cyberspace.

This is an urgent task. It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of Internet content, or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.

In Syria, a blogger named Anas Maarawi was arrested in July 2011 after demanding that President Asad leave. He's not been charged with anything, but he remains in detention. In both Syria and Iran, many other online activists--actually too many to name--have been detained, imprisoned, beaten, and even killed for expressing their views and or-ganizing their fellow citizens. And perhaps the most well-known blogger in Russia, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced in December 2011 to 15 days in jail after he took part in protests over the Russian elections.

In China, several dozen companies signed a pledge in October, committing to strengthen their "self-management, self-restraint, and strict self-discipline." Now, if they were talking about fiscal responsibility, we might all agree. But they were talking about offering Web-based services to the Chinese people, which is code for getting in line with the government's tight control over the Internet.

These and many other incidents worldwide remind us of the stakes in this struggle. And the struggle does not belong only to those on the front lines who are suffering. It belongs to all of us: first, because we all have a responsibility to support human rights and fundamental freedoms everywhere. Second, because the benefits of the network grow as the number of users grows. The Internet is not exhaustible or competitive. My use of the Internet doesn't diminish yours. On the contrary, the more people that are online and contributing ideas, the more valuable the entire network becomes to all the other users. In this way, all users, through the billions of individual choices we make about what information to seek or share, fuel innovation, enliven public debates, quench a thirst for knowledge, and connect people in ways that distance and cost made impossible just a generation ago.

But when ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the Internet is diminished for all of us. What we do today to preserve fundamental freedoms online will have a profound effect on the next generation of users. More than two billion people are now connected to the Internet, but in the next 20 years, that number will more than double. And we are quickly approaching the day when more than a billion people are using the Internet in repressive countries. The pledges we make and the actions we take today can help us determine whether that number grows or shrinks, or whether the meaning of being on the Internet is totally distorted.

Delivering on Internet freedom requires cooperative actions, and we have to foster a global conversation based on shared principles and with the right partners to navigate the practical challenges of maintaining an Internet that is open and free while also interoperable, secure, and reliable. …

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