Human Rights and Neutrality in the Internet

13 November 2007 - A Workshop on Openness in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


In the Geneva round of the World Summit of the Information Society, it was acknowledged by the participant countries that ‘[t]he rule of law, accompanied by a supportive, transparent, pro-competitive, technologically neutral and predictable policy and regulatory framework reflecting national realities, is essential for building a people-centred Information Society’. The participants also proclaimed their compromise of ‘respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, as a premise to ensure that ‘people everywhere can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge’. In Tunis, those principles were reaffirmed, and it was further recognized that countries should ‘strive unremittingly ... to promote universal, ubiquitous, equitable and affordable access to ICTs’.

The question this workshop will seek to address is:

In which sense are technologically neutral laws and policies suitable to harness the development of a people-centred Information Society and to protect and fulfil the human right of access to knowledge and technology?


The organizers of this event are Marcelo Thompson, from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, and the Brazilian Innovation Agency, under the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology (on leave), and Ronaldo Lemos, from the Centre for Technology and Society (CTS) at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) Law School of Rio de Janeiro, Creative Commons Brazil, and the iCommons’ Board.


Marcelo Thompson
Oxford Internet Institute
Mobile: +55 (21) 9128-7558
Skype In: +55 (21) 3717-5217

Pedro Paranaguá
Centre for Technology and Society
+55 (21) 9488-0997

Panellists and expected topics are:

[Opening and Moderation]
Pedro Paranaguá (Centre for Technology and Society, FGV Law School in Rio de Janeiro)

Technological Neutrality and Political Neutrality: Can We Draw a Line?
Marcelo Thompson (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford)

Autonomy and Search Engines: Should the Search Layer be Neutral?
Johanna Shelton (Google Inc.)

Network Neutrality and “Core” Neutrality
Michael Geist (University of Ottawa)

Legal Net Neutrality
Ronaldo Lemos (Centre for Technology and Society, FGV Law School in Rio de Janeiro)

Citizenship and Digital Culture: ‘Neutrality’ or ‘Solidarity’?
Claudio Prado (Brazilian Ministry of Culture)


Presentations: 10-15 minutes
Discussions: 10-30 minutes


Michael Geist: Dr. Michael Geist is the Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School.

Dr. Geist has written numerous academic articles and government reports on the Internet and law and is a columnist on technology law issues that regularly appears in the Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, and BBC. He is the creator and consulting editor of BNA's Internet Law News, a daily Internet law news service, editor of the monthly newsletters, Internet and E-commerce Law in Canada and the Canadian Privacy Law Review (Butterworths), the founder of the Ontario Research Network for E-commerce, on the advisory boards of several leading Internet law publications including Electronic Commerce & Law Report (BNA), the Journal of Internet Law (Aspen) and Internet Law and Business (Computer Law Reporter). He is the author of the textbook Internet Law in Canada (Captus Press) which is now in its third edition, and the editor of In the Public Interest: The Future of Canadian Copyright Law, published in 2005 by Irwin Law.

Dr. Geist serves on the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Expert Advisory Board and maintains, a leading privacy law resource. His work has been recognized with several important awards and grants including the 2002 Canadian Association of Law Teachers Scholarly Paper Award and a major research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for work on Internet jurisdiction and copyright law. In 2003, Dr. Geist became the first law professor to receive the Ontario Premier Research Excellence Award, obtained a significant grant from to establish Canada first technology law public interest litigation clinic at the University of Ottawa, was named one of Canada Top 40 Under 40, and received the Public Leadership Award from Canarie for his contribution to the Internet in Canada.

Dr. Geist has served on the director and advisory boards of several Internet and IT law organizations including spending six years on the board of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority, the dot-ca administrative agency, and three years with the Public Interest Registry, which manages the dot-org domain. He was a member of Canada’s National Task Force on Spam and is the former chair of a global Internet jurisdiction project for the American Bar Association and International Chamber of Commerce. He is regularly quoted in the national and international media on Internet law issues and has appeared before government committees on e-commerce policy.

Ronaldo Lemos: Ronaldo Lemos is the director of the Center for Technology & Society (CTS) at the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) Law School in Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Lemos is the head professor of Intellectual Property Law at FGV Law School and is also the director of Creative Commons Brazil. He has an LL.B. and LL.D. from the University of Sao Paulo, and an LL.M. from Harvard Law School. He is the author of three books, including Direito, Tecnologia e Cultura, published by FGV Press, 2005. He coordinates various projects, such as the Cultura Livre and Open Business Project, an international initiative taking place in Brazil, Nigeria, Chile, Mexico, South Africa and the UK. He is one of the founders of Overmundo, the largest Web 2.0 initiative in Brazil. He is also a member of the Electronic Commerce Commission appointed by the Brazilian Ministry of Justice, curator of the TIM Festival, and monthly columnist at Trip Magazine.

Pedro Paranaguá: Pedro Paranaguá de Moniz is a Professor of Law at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV) Law School in Rio de Janeiro. Pedro is the Project Lead of the Centre for Technology and Society’s Access to Knowledge Brazil Programme, and Manager of the distance learning law courses at FGV-Online. He is a lecturer in intellectual property at FGV’s post-graduate department in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. He is a lecturer at the Masters degree at the Brazilian Industrial Property National Institute (INPI), and a visiting professor at Rio de Janeiro Federal University (UFRJ), and State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). Pedro also represents FGV School of Law in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nation’s World Intellectual Property Organization - WIPO, in Geneva. He earned his LL.M. (merit) in Intellectual Property at the University of London, Queen Mary, UK, with scholarships from the Alban Programme of the European Commission; from Queen Mary, University of London, and from the Institute of International Education (IIE) jointly with the Ford Foundation. He is the author of several articles, including "The Development Agenda for WIPO: another stillbirth? A battle between access to knowledge and enclosure” (2005).

Claudio Prado: Claudio Prado is the Head of the Department of Digital Culture, at the Brazilian Ministry of Culture. Cultural Activities: Counterculture activist of the 60’s in London, Claudio connected to the alternative press, pirate radios, and the production of the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury Festivals where he produced Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. Founder of the first Brazilian rock production company called, “Dreams, Artistic and On the Road Productions” in São Paulo. Artistic director of Band 13, first rock program of Brazilian television. Producer of “os Mutantes” and “Novos Baianos”. Co-producer of the Águas Claras Festival, active collaborator of the counterculture movements of Lira Paulistana and Revista Bondinho in São Paulo. Marketing Director of Mangueira Samba School of Rio de Janeiro. Nongovernmental Activities: Founder and CEO of the social-environmental NGO Salve a Amazonia (Save Amazonia). Founder and Director of PróRio92, one of the leading NGO’s network in the organization of the Global Forum of the UN’s World Environmental Summit Rio 92. Coordinator of the NGO Phoenix, experimental project, working to interconnect formal and informal education in a governmental secondary school in São Paulo. Entrepreneurial Activities: Responsible for promotions and events of DPZ publicity agency and Gradiente in São Paulo. Partner and Director of CPG Marketing pioneer agency for corporate consulting in ethics, social and environmental responsibility. Governmental Activities: Marketing Director of RioTur, City of Rio de Janeiro Tourist Authority. Executive production of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival and New Year Festivities.

Johanna Shelton: Johanna Mikes Shelton serves as Policy Counsel and Legislative Strategist for Google Inc. in Washington DC. Johanna joined Google in June 2007, after serving as Senior Counsel for Telecommunications and the Internet for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce under Chairman John D. Dingell (D-MI). Her portfolio included all telecommunications, Internet and media issues before the Committee. She previously served as legal advisor for broadcast and cable issues to FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and as counsel for Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA) focusing on broadband and intellectual property. Before that, she was an attorney with the Federal Communications Commission’s Common Carrier Bureau and at Latham & Watkins in Washington DC. She received her J.D. magna cum laude and a B.S. in Business Administration summa cum laude from Georgetown University. Following law school, Ms. Shelton clerked for the Honorable Karen Nelson Moore, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

Marcelo Thompson: Marcelo Thompson Mello Guimarães is a former Attorney General of the Brazilian Information Technology Institute - ITI, under the Office of the President of Brazil (2004-2005), where he headed the legal team in charge of both the Brazilian Free Software Programme and the Brazilian Public Key Infrastructure.

Prior to that, Marcelo was the Head of the Department of Litigation (2003-2004) and an Attorney within the Venture Capital division (2002-2003) of the Brazilian Innovation Agency - FINEP, under the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology. He was also a Part-Time Information Technology Law Professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (2002-2003), from where he holds a Bachelor of Laws degree (2000) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Intellectual Property Law (2003).

Marcelo also holds a Master of Laws with Concentration in Law and Technology from the University of Ottawa’s Law & Technology Program (2005-2006), where he focused his dissertation on the interplay between copyright and human rights - or, more precisely, on the right of access to knowledge as a human right.

Marcelo is currently reading for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, with a full scholarship from The CAPES Foundation, of the Brazilian Ministry of Education. Marcelo's thesis focuses on the problems of applying the principle of neutrality to the information environment, and will likely be entitled "Evaluating Neutrality in the Information Age: on the Value of Persons and Access".

Aditional Information
Expected Discussion and Outcomes
The many different dimensions of the so-called “principle of neutrality” in the information age (of which network neutrality is but the most recent and unsuspected one) intertwine in a complex patchwork, and have profound implications on the fulfilment of the commitment and agenda approved in Tunis. It is arguable whether the IGF itself, since constituted as a ‘neutral process’ (Tunis Agenda, par. 77), may be expected to be a locus for sustaining value-free decisions with regard to the technological infra-structure -- which might conversely influence what kinds of policies are devised and implemented (or avoided) by the involved stakeholders.

In spite of the importance of clarifying what ‘technological neutrality’ really means, rare are the conceptual discussions of such a controversial “principle”. ‘Technological neutrality’ persists as a buzz phrase, contradictorily used in the most diversified policy contexts, and many times in disagreement with traditional theories of neutral political concern, in which the “principle of technological neutrality” could naturally be thought to be grounded.

In effect, there seems to be a growing understanding that, to protect the end points of the Internet (and, thus, people), we need a neutral core, coupled with other several layers of neutrality. According to this understanding, tied to a neutral domain names policy we need a neutral protocols layer that treats all packs of bits as equals before the net. On the top of it, we would need a neutral search layer that prevents filtering mechanisms from making value choices with regard to what we can find in the Net; a neutral identity layer that does not attempt too much on the identification of individuals; neutral electronic documents laws that give legal value to any kinds of documents, whatever their technologies are; and neutral intellectual property laws, which equally and fully protect intellectual creations, irrespectively of the means they are expressed in.

But what does neutrality really mean? Is neutrality always or ever ‘good’? This workshop will aim at sketching a panoramic view of the many dimensions of the so-called “principle of neutrality” in the information age, and the unsuspected relationships that these dimensions hold to each other. Doing so, it will discuss the promises and problems that such a “principle” may present for those who believe in ensuring fundamental values and, at the same time, a plurality of discourses in the Internet.

The human rights perspective will be a foundational one, which the participants are expected to address within their areas of expertise. As the human rights’ discourse is inherently based on the achievement of a common values framework, can it dovetail with doctrines of neutral political concern? Is the advocacy of technological neutrality, in general, and network neutrality, in particular, expected to further the commitment of “respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”? In particular, can neutrality further the human right of access to knowledge and technology?