Magazine article Canadian Speeches

Use the Internet to Build, Not Destroy Global Human Rights

Magazine article Canadian Speeches

Use the Internet to Build, Not Destroy Global Human Rights

Article excerpt

LLOYD AXWORTHY

Minister of Foreign Affairs

The Internet can be a powerful tool to promote global human rights, or a destructive force that can topple governments and help spread racism, hatred, child pornography, prostitution and other cimes. Curbing crime and exploitation and making the Internet a constructive rather than a destructive force is beyond the capacity of any single nation. Human rights and the Internet involve global issues that can be effectively dealt with only on a global basis, by governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual citizens. Speech to the NGO forum on the Internet and Human Rights, Montreal, September 11, 1998.

Last week, Grand Chief Phil Fontaine, the head of Canada's Assembly of First Nations, gave me a wonderful gift: a talking stick. It is a technology that goes back thousands of years, and when handed to a speaker it is supposed to imbue that person's words with courage, honesty and wisdom. Of course, it's not always guaranteed to work because much depends on the person holding the stick. For our First Nations people it carries great significance and responsibility: when the stick is in your hand you have the power to speak straight, to communicate what is good and to help in the search for truth.

I thought that bringing the talking stick to the opening of this conference made some sense and would perhaps carry the right message. After all, we are here to discuss how today's electronic, wired-cyberspace technology can also be a talking stick bringing with it the capacity to speak straight, to contribute to the common good, and to advance the cause of human rights and commitment to that cause.

We are here to examine how we can maximize the Internet's potential for good as a tool to promote and protect human rights--its use for human rights education, as a means of organizing human rights defenders, and getting information on human rights violations out to the world. We are here to talk about a technology that is revolutionizing the world -- changing the equations of power, challenging the conventional channels of communication, distributing and disseminating influence in the broadest possible fashion, to the point of democratizing the channels and getting rid of the gatekeepers.

The question posed is, to what end and for what purpose will the Internet be used? As with most technologies there is the potential for evil as well as good. For all the opportunity it represents, there is a dark side. Just this past week, an international operation led by Interpol-arrested over 100 people in 12 countries involved in a child pornography ring. Racists and extremists use the Net to incite hatred. The drug dealers and the crime rings turn the Internet to their own advantage, using it to help overturn governments and corrode society. So part of the human rights and Internet issue is the question of how to prevent the abuse of this technology.

The information superhighway can transport the best but it can also transport the worst. Hate speech, child pornography and child prostitution have moved onto the Net and they have to be dislodged. The aim is not to control the Internet per se, but to take aim at those who would misuse it for criminal and other illegal activities that can hurt or harm. The Internet should not be a law-free zone. We are working with other governments, through the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, the United Nations and other international organizations to prevent the Internet from becoming a safe haven for conduct that threatens human rights. Canadian courts and legislatures have done ground-breaking work in defining when freedom of expression must give way to criminal law sanctions to control obscenity, hate propaganda and child pornography. Our experience in the real world could guide us in addressing similar challenges in the cyberworld, where the consequences of hurtful actions are no less destructive. …

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