Internet and human rights: shared values for sound policies

8 November 2012 - A Workshop on Human Rights in Baku, Azerbaijan


In just a few decades, the Internet has demonstrated an exceptional ability in upholding fundamental human rights and democratic principles in unexpected ways and scale, empowering individuals across the globe to exercise a wide range of fundamental rights, such as the right to freedom of expression and opinion or the right to freedom of association.

Human rights standards were written with remarkable foresight to accommodate future technological developments; for example, article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), which includes the right “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” almost reads like a definition of the Internet even though it was written a quarter of a century before the development of the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP).

There is no doubt that the unique characteristics of the Internet, based on a model of open and collaborative approach to technology, standards and policy development, have been key to this success. The core values of the Internet pioneers, which are reflected in the development of Internet protocols and other core Internet architecture, were deeply rooted in the belief that the human condition can be enhanced by removing barriers to communication and information.

But the openness of the Internet- based on shared global ownership, development based on open standards, and freely accessible processes for technology and policy development- should not be taken for granted: there have been in recent years many examples of public policy initiatives that seem, in certain cases, to encourage the use of technical measures to restrict access to content deemed undesirable, without due regard to the potential impact on an individual’s capacity to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms, and beyond the grounds on which limitations of these rights and freedoms are permitted under human rights standards.

Some of the main future threats to the exercise of human rights on the Internet may come from policy decisions based on a lack of understanding of the unique way in which the Internet's technologies and resources are developed and of the organic relationship that exists between the open Internet model and the exercise of fundamental rights.

This workshop aims to engage a dialogue among all stakeholder groups, support respective efforts and help build stronger understanding on these issues, including on the following aspects:

  • What are some of the shared values between the model of Internet development and the struggle for human rights?
  • When developing sound policy decisions, what conflicts arise between preserving open Internet architecture and preserving human rights?
  • Are alterations of the way the Internet works altering the exercise of human rights as well? And, what is the impact of one on the other?
  • How can technology help Governments in their obligation to protect and promote the fundamental rights of their citizens?
  • Each stakeholder in the Internet ecosystem has different human rights roles and responsibilities. Is the combined human rights effect greater than the sum of its parts – how can these roles be developed to maximize respect for human rights?

The workshop’s format will be that of an interactive roundtable discussion (note: would need hollow square setting or similar). There will be three framing interventions (max. 5 minutes each) followed by an active discussion among a set of discussants from a variety of regions and perspectives. The workshop will also foster interaction with the live and online participants.