Thursday, June 24, 2010

 

Human rights 2.0

“Human rights 2.0: Human rights in the information society” was the topic of two lectures in the series “Am Puls” by Dr. Jan Krone, professor for media science at the Fachhochschule St. Pölten, and Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, professor for public international law and international relations at the Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz.

Krone focused on freedom of the media, freedom of speech and data privacy in the European Union, pointing out that the Internet itself is not a mass medium but merely a communication channel that carries, amongst other things, media products: Individuals often gather information about others purely to satisfy their curiosity, and conversely share their personal information seeking for recognition. Companies mainly satisfy their business needs and sometimes manage to create “sect-like islands on the net like Apple does”, but generally lack the sensibility and awareness for data privacy needs. States need to balance the need for security and state intervention with the freedom of the people and basic rights.

In the following discussion, Krone suggested the Internet would eventually become fragmented along cultural or ideological borders, and Europe would have to build a European firewall similar to the Great Firewall in China (which uses technology from European IT and telecom suppliers). The audience strongly objected to the notion of a digital Schengen border, which goes against the liberal tradition in many European countries and doesn’t recognize the range of believes and the diversity within Europe.

Benedek talked about Internet governance and the role of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a “forum for multi-stakeholder policy dialogue”. Concepts for dealing with illegal activities and what is considered acceptable and appropriate encroachment upon basic rights such as those guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) vary between countries. Even more, what is illegal in one country may be perfectly legal and even socially accepted behavior elsewhere.

Touching on net neutrality and the digital divide, he mentioned that there is a push to make Internet access a human right and some countries have indeed added rights to participate in the information society to their constitutions. At the same time the copyright industry focuses on the three strikes model in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) model as punishment for intellectual property violations.

ACTA is not the only threat to access for all though: Much content today is only available to people who understand English, and not all content is suitable for children or accessible to elderly people. How we can make the net accessible to people of all ages and qualifications, and in their native languages, remains a challenge.

Basic human rights, including the rights to education, freedom of speech and freedom of press, increasingly have a material dependency on the right to Internet access. As an audience member pointed out, “offline” studying at university is virtually impossible; long gone are the days of paper handouts and blackboard announcements.

Both speakers agreed that the right to privacy requires “educated decisions” by the people, and consequently educating people. The lectures and the following lively discussion last night served that purpose well.

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