Digital rights

Last updated

Digital rights are those human rights and legal rights that allow individuals to access, use, create, and publish digital media or to access and use computers, other electronic devices, and telecommunications networks. The concept is particularly related to the protection and realization of existing rights, such as the right to privacy and freedom of expression, in the context of digital technologies, especially the Internet. [1] The laws of several countries recognize a right to Internet access. [2]


Human rights and the Internet

A number of human rights have been identified as relevant with regard to the Internet. These include freedom of expression, privacy, and freedom of association. Furthermore, the right to education and multilingualism, consumer rights, and capacity building in the context of the right to development have also been identified. [3] [4]

According to an editorial in the journal La Civilta Cattolica the Internet is a global public good that should be accessible to all and respectful of the rights of others. With repressive regimes restricting access to information and communications, democratic governments should work to guarantee access to the Internet and adopt general principles to ensure network use respects universal human rights.

"What the law permits or prohibits offline must also be the case online ... The "only widespread international consensus" on online material to be censored regards child pornography and cyberterrorism. The article continued, saying that with individuals abusing the freedom of expression, with companies potentially exploiting computer users for financial gain and repressive regimes blocking information from their citizens, the world needs a "Charter of Human Rights for the Internet".

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized the United States government for considering during the Megaupload seizure process that people lose property rights by storing data on a cloud computing service. [5]

Ensuring that access is broadly available and/or preventing unreasonable restrictions

Several countries have adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available and/or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual's access to information and the Internet:

APC Internet Rights Charter

The APC Internet Rights Charter was established by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) at the APC Europe Internet Rights Workshop, held in Prague, February 2001. The Charter draws on the People's Communications Charter and develops seven themes: internet access for all; freedom of expression and association; access to knowledge, shared learning and creation - free and open source software and technology development; privacy, surveillance and encryption; governance of the internet; awareness, protection and realization of rights. [12] [13] The APC states that "the ability to share information and communicate freely using the internet is vital to the realization of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women." [14]

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)

In December 2003 the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was convened under the auspice of the United Nations (UN). After lengthy negotiations between governments, businesses and civil society representatives the WSIS Declaration of Principles was adopted [15] reaffirming human rights: [15]

We reaffirm the universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, as enshrined in the Vienna Declaration. We also reaffirm that democracy, sustainable development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as good governance at all levels are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. We further resolve to strengthen the rule of law in international as in national affairs.

The WSIS Declaration also makes specific reference to the importance of the right to freedom of expression in the "Information Society" in stating: [15]

We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organisation. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits of the Information Society offers.

The 2004 WSIS Declaration of Principles also acknowledged that "it is necessary to prevent the use of information resources and technologies for criminal and terrorist purposes, while respecting human rights". [16] Wolfgang Benedek comments that the WSIS Declaration only contains a number of references to human rights and does not spell out any procedures or mechanism to assure that human rights are considered in practice. [17]

Digital rights landscape Open rights group.jpg
Digital rights landscape

Digital rights landscape

In 2005, the United Kingdom's Open Rights Group published a digital rights landscape, documenting the range of organizations and people active in the cause of preserving digital rights. The diagram related groups, individuals, and websites to interest areas. [18]

Internet Bill of Rights and Charter on Internet Rights and Principles

The Dynamic Coalition for an Internet Bill of Rights held a large preparatory Dialogue Forum on Internet Rights in Rome, September 2007 and presented its ideas at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Rio in November 2007 leading to a joint declaration on internet rights. [19] At the IGF in Hyderabad in 2008 a merger between the Dynamic Coalitions on Human Rights for the Internet and on Principles for the Internet let to the Dynamic Coalition on Internet Rights and Principles, which based on the APC Internet Rights Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights elaborated the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet presented at the IGF in Vilnius in 2010, which since has been translated into several languages.

Global Network Initiative

On October 29, 2008, the Global Network Initiative (GNI) was founded upon its "Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy". The Initiative was launched in the 60th Anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and is based on internationally recognized laws and standards for human rights on freedom of expression and privacy set out in the UDHR, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). [20] Participants in the Initiative include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, other major companies, human rights NGOs, investors, and academics. [21] [22]

According to reports Cisco Systems was invited to the initial discussions but didn't take part in the initiative. Harrington Investments, which proposed that Cisco establish a human rights board, has dismissed the GNI as a voluntary code of conduct having any impact. Chief executive John Harrington called the GNI "meaningless noise" and instead calls for bylaws to be introduced that force boards of directors to accept human rights responsibilities. [23]

BBC World Service global public opinion poll

A poll of 27,973 adults in 26 countries, including 14,306 Internet users, [24] was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan using telephone and in-person interviews between 30 November 2009 and 7 February 2010. GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller felt, overall, that the poll showed that:

Despite worries about privacy and fraud, people around the world see access to the internet as their fundamental right. They think the web is a force for good, and most don’t want governments to regulate it. [25]

Findings from the poll include: [25]

Recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur

The 88 recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in a May 2011 report to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly include several that bear on the question of Internet access: [27]

67. Unlike any other medium, the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. By vastly expanding the capacity of individuals to enjoy their right to freedom of opinion and expression, which is an "enabler" of other human rights, the Internet boosts economic, social and political development, and contributes to the progress of humankind as a whole. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur encourages other Special Procedures mandate holders to engage on the issue of the Internet with respect to their particular mandates.
78. While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, States have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
79. The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest.
85. Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.

These recommendations have led to the suggestion that Internet access itself is or should become a fundamental human right. [28] [29]

Internet Society's Global Internet User Survey

In July and August 2012 the Internet Society conducted online interviews of more than 10,000 Internet users in 20 countries. Some of the results relevant to Digital rights and Internet access are summarized below. [30]

QuestionNo. of ResponsesResponses
Access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right.10,78983% somewhat or strongly agree,
14% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  3% don't know
Each individual country has the right to govern the Internet the way they see fit.10,78967% somewhat or strongly agree,
29% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  4% don't know /not applicable
The Internet does more to help society than it does to hurt it.10,78983% somewhat or strongly agree,
13% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  4% don't know / not applicable
Increased government control of the Internet would make me use the Internet less.9,71757% somewhat or strongly agree,
39% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  5% don't know / not applicable
Increased government control of the Internet would increase the number of users.9,71740% somewhat or strongly agree,
52% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  8% don't know / not applicable
Governments need to place a higher priority on expanding the Internet and its benefits in my country.10,78983% somewhat or strongly agree,
11% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  5% don't know / not applicable
For the Internet to reach its full potential in my country people need to be able to access the Internet without data and content restrictions.10,78979% somewhat or strongly agree,
17% somewhat or strongly disagree,
  4% don't know / not applicable

Digital rights advocacy groups

See also

Related Research Articles

World Summit on the Information Society

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was a two-phase United Nations-sponsored summit on information, communication and, in broad terms, the information society that took place in 2003 in Geneva and in 2005 in Tunis. One of its chief aims was to bridge the global digital divide separating rich countries from poor countries by increasing internet accessibility in the developing world. The conferences established 17 May as World Information Society Day.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network of organizations that was founded in 1990 to provide communication infrastructure, including Internet-based applications, to groups and individuals who work for peace, human rights, protection of the environment, and sustainability. Pioneering the use of ICTs for civil society, especially in developing countries, APC were often the first providers of Internet in their member countries.

Artistic freedom can be defined as "the freedom to imagine, create and distribute diverse cultural expressions free of governmental censorship, political interference or the pressures of non-state actors." Generally, artistic freedom describes the extent of independence artists obtain to create art freely. Moreover, artistic freedom concerns "the rights of citizens to access artistic expressions and take part in cultural life - and thus [represents] one of the key issues for democracy." The extent of freedom indispensable to create art freely differs regarding the existence or nonexistence of national instruments established to protect, to promote, to control or to censor artists and their creative expressions. This is why universal, regional and national legal provisions have been installed to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in general and of artistic expression in particular. In 2013, Ms Farida Shaheed, United Nations special rapporteur to the Human Rights Council, presented her "Report in the field of cultural rights: The right to freedom of expression and creativity" providing a comprehensive study of the status quo of, and specifically the limitations and challenges to, artistic freedom worldwide. In this study, artistic freedom "was put forward as a basic human right that went beyond the 'right to create' or the 'right to participate in cultural life'." It stresses the range of fundamental freedoms indispensable for artistic expression and creativity, e.g. the freedoms of movement and association. "The State of Artistic Freedom" is an integral report published by arts censorship monitor Freemuse on an annual basis.

Freedom of information Freedom of a person or people to publish and consume information

Freedom of information is freedom of a person or people to publish and consume information. Access to information is the ability for an individual to seek, receive and impart information effectively. This sometimes includes "scientific, indigenous, and traditional knowledge; freedom of information, building of open knowledge resources, including open Internet and open standards, and open access and availability of data; preservation of digital heritage; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity, such as fostering access to local content in accessible languages; quality education for all, including lifelong and e-learning; diffusion of new media and information literacy and skills, and social inclusion online, including addressing inequalities based on skills, education, gender, age, race, ethnicity, and accessibility by those with disabilities; and the development of connectivity and affordable ICTs, including mobile, the Internet, and broadband infrastructures".

Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen individual rights and freedoms by defining, promoting, and influencing technology policy and the architecture of the Internet.

Internet Governance Forum

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a multistakeholder governance group for policy dialogue on issues of Internet governance. It brings together all stakeholders in the Internet governance debate, whether they represent governments, the private sector or civil society, including the technical and academic community, on an equal basis and through an open and inclusive process. The establishment of the IGF was formally announced by the United Nations Secretary-General in July 2006. It was first convened in October–November 2006 and has held an annual meeting since then.

European Digital Rights Advocacy group

European Digital Rights (EDRi) is an international advocacy group headquartered in Brussels, Belgium. EDRi is a network collective of NGOs, experts, advocates and academics working to defend and advance digital rights across the continent. For almost two decades, it has served as the backbone of the digital rights movement in Europe. In March 2021, EDRi is made of 44 NGOs, as well as experts, advocates and academics from all across Europe.

Source protection, sometimes also referred to as source confidentiality or in the U.S. as the reporter's privilege, is a right accorded to journalists under the laws of many countries, as well as under international law. It prohibits authorities, including the courts, from compelling a journalist to reveal the identity of an anonymous source for a story. The right is based on a recognition that without a strong guarantee of anonymity, many would be deterred from coming forward and sharing information of public interests with journalists.

Global Network Initiative

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) is a non-governmental organization with the dual goals of preventing Internet censorship by authoritarian governments and protecting the Internet privacy rights of individuals. It is sponsored by a coalition of multinational corporations, non-profit organizations, and universities.

Freedom of speech Right to communicate ones opinions and ideas

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right that supports the freedom of an individual or a community to articulate their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. The term freedom of expression is usually used synonymously but, in legal sense, includes any activity of seeking, receiving, and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

The Telecoms Package was the review of the European Union Telecommunications Framework from 2007 – 2009. The objective of the review was to update the EU Telecoms Framework of 2002 and to create a common set of regulations for the telecoms industry across all 27 EU member states. The review consisted of a package of directives addressing the regulation of service provision, access, interconnection, users' contractual rights and users' privacy, as well as a regulation creating a new European regulatory body (BEREC).

The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband or freedom to connect, is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual's access to the Internet.

Intellectual freedom encompasses the freedom to hold, receive and disseminate ideas without restriction. Viewed as an integral component of a democratic society, intellectual freedom protects an individual's right to access, explore, consider, and express ideas and information as the basis for a self-governing, well-informed citizenry. Intellectual freedom comprises the bedrock for freedoms of expression, speech, and the press and relates to freedoms of information and the right to privacy.

The right to sexuality incorporates the right to express one's sexuality and to be free from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In specific, it relates to the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, and the protection of those rights, although it is equally applicable to heterosexuality. The right to sexuality and freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is based on the universality of human rights and the inalienable nature of rights belonging to every person by virtue of being human.

The International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance(also called the "Necessary and Proportionate Principles" or just "the Principles") is a document which attempts to "clarify how international human rights law applies in the current digital environment". Communications Surveillance(Mass Surveillance of Communication) conflicts with a number of International Human Rights, mainly that of Privacy. As a result,Communications Surveillance may only occur when prescribed by law necessary to achieve legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim used.

Media freedom in the European Union

Media freedom in the European Union is a fundamental right that applies to all member states of the European Union and its citizens, as defined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. Within the EU enlargement process, guaranteeing media freedom is named a "key indicator of a country's readiness to become part of the EU".

Access to public information in Europe

Access to public information and freedom of information (FOI) refer to the right to access information held by public bodies also known as "right to know". Access to public information is considered of fundamental importance for the effective functioning of democratic systems, as it enhances governments' and public officials' accountability, boosting people's participation and allowing their informed participation into public life. The fundamental premise of the right to access public information is that the information held by governmental institutions is in principle public and may be concealed only on the basis of legitimate reasons which should be detailed in the law. Access to public information builds on the principle that in a democratic system people should be in the condition of accessing a wide range of information in order to effectively participate in public life as well as on matters affecting them.

Human rights and encryption

Human rights applied to encryption is an important concept for freedom of expression as encryption is a technical resource of implementation of basic human rights.

Internet universality is a concept and framework adopted by UNESCO in 2015 to summarize their positions on the Internet. The concept recognizes that "the Internet is much more than infrastructure and applications, it is a network of economic and social interactions and relationships, which has the potential to enable human rights, empower individuals and communities, and facilitate sustainable development. The concept is based on four principles stressing the Internet should be Human rights-based, Open, Accessible, and based on Multistakeholder participation. These have been abbreviated as the R-O-A-M principles. Understanding the Internet in this way helps to draw together different facets of Internet development, concerned with technology and public policy, rights and development."

Multistakeholder participation is a specific governance approach whereby relevant stakeholders participate in the collective shaping of evolutions and uses of the Internet.


  1. "Digital freedom: the case for civil liberties on the Net". BBC News. 1999-03-04. Retrieved 2010-05-01.
  2. Lucchi, Nicola (2011-02-06). "Access to Network Services and Protection of Constitutional Rights: Recognizing the Essential Role of Internet Access for the Freedom of Expression". Rochester, NY.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Benedek 2008, 17 November 2011
  4. Kim, Minjeong; Choi, Dongyeon (2018). "Development of Youth Digital Citizenship Scale and Implication for Educational Setting". Journal of Educational Technology & Society. 21 (1): 155–171. ISSN   1176-3647.
  5. Megaupload and the Government's Attack on Cloud Computing - Electronic Frontier Foundation, October 31, 2012
  6. "Judgement 12790 of the Supreme Court" Archived 2015-12-17 at the Wayback Machine , File 09-013141-0007-CO, 30 July 2010. (English translation)
  7. "Estonia, where being wired is a human right", Colin Woodard, Christian Science Monitor, 1 July 2003
  8. "Finland makes 1Mb broadband access a legal right", Don Reisinger, CNet News, 14 October 2009
  9. "Top French Court Declares Internet Access 'Basic Human Right'". London Times. Fox News. 12 June 2009.
  10. Constitution of Greece As revised by the parliamentary resolution of May 27th 2008 of the VIIIth Revisionary Parliament, English language translation, Hellenic Parliament
  11. Sarah Morris (17 November 2009). "Spain govt to guarantee legal right to broadband". Reuters.
  12. "Towards a charter for Internet rights". Internet Rights UK. Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  13. Benedek, Wolfgang; Veronika Bauer; Matthias Kettemann (2008). Internet Governance and the Information Society. Eleven International Publishing. p. 39. ISBN   978-90-77596-56-2.
  14. "ICT Policy and Internet Rights". Association for Progressive Communications . Retrieved 2 December 2008.
  15. 1 2 3 Klang, Mathias; Murray, Andrew (2005). Human Rights in the Digital Age. Routledge. p. 1. ISBN   9781904385318.
  16. Klang, Mathias; Murray, Andrew (2005). Human Rights in the Digital Age. Routledge. p. 2. ISBN   9781904385318.
  17. Benedek, Wolfgang; Veronika Bauer; Matthias Kettemann (2008). Internet Governance and the Information Society. Eleven International Publishing. p. 36. ISBN   978-90-77596-56-2.
  18. Charman-Anderson, Suw (2005-09-17), UK digital rights landscape , retrieved 2019-06-19
  19. Benedek, Wolfgang; Veronika Bauer; Matthias Kettemann (2008). Internet Governance and the Information Society. Eleven International Publishing. p. 38. ISBN   978-90-77596-56-2.
  20. Global Network Initiative, FAQ Archived 2009-03-09 at the Wayback Machine
  21. "News". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  22. "Participants". Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  23. Glanville, Jo (17 November 2008). "The big business of net censorship". London: The Guardian.
  24. For the BBC poll Internet users are those who used the Internet within the previous six months.
  25. 1 2 "BBC Internet Poll: Detailed Findings", BBC World Service, 8 March 2010
  26. "Internet access is 'a fundamental right'", BBC News, 8 March 2010
  27. "VI. Conclusions and recommendations", Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, Human Rights Council, Seventeenth session Agenda item 3, United Nations General Assembly, 16 May 2011
  28. "Can the Internet be a Human Right?", Michael L. Best, Human rights & Human Welfare, Vol. 4 (2004)
  29. Kravets, David (June 3, 2011). "U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right". Wired.
  30. "Global Internet User Survey 2012" Archived 2013-03-14 at the Wayback Machine , Internet Society, 20 November 2012