Internet Freedom is about the right to access the internet, freedom from digital censorship, and net neutrality. It’s the 21st century and everyone uses the internet nowadays, it has become an essential part of human life and a great way for global communication. Thanks to the contribution of this online world, our modern life has become so easy. Everyone has search engines like Google and Yahoo where they can find information about literally anything. Internet Freedom is a human right and empowers article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As the internet upsurges and becomes such a significant part of life, the question “Should internet rights be considered a human right?” is now asked. The thing is that digital rights are actually human rights! Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes internet freedom. This Article is about the freedom of expression and opinions which in other words it means freedom to hold beliefs without interference and obtain information or ideas through any media like the internet. This also means that the freedom of expression is protected by the United States Constitution’s First Amendment which is “freedom of speech”.
Although most nations have this wonderful right, it is violated everyday by countries like China, North Korea, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Many online activists have been detained, imprisoned, beaten and even killed for expressing their views. According to Article 19 website, global media freedom has been its lowest ever, with in 2016, 259 journalists were imprisoned worldwide and 79 were killed. While Russia, North Korea and China have censorship on their internet banning almost every website due to each country right to govern. Internet censorship has become more prevalent ever since 2006 as reported by Article 19 website. Nevertheless of all these mistreatments of our morals, at least 119 countries have had positive shifts.
Earlier, in January 22, 2010, this topic has been brought up by the government, secretary of state then Hillary Clinton in a speech at Newseum, Washington. She stated “ We stand for a single internet where all humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas”, referencing article 19. She also talked about how Vietnam had social media restrictions, Egypt having 30 bloggers and activists detained. Clinton said “Some countries have erected electronic barriers that prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s network, they’ve expunged words, names and phrases from search engines…these actions contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. Clinton’s perspective of online rights references the need to balance freedom.
Google, the beloved web provider, has a website called “Take Action” where it has all internet problems and what people should do. It also talks about how the internet empowers everyone and that anyone can share their ideas and learn and how there is only two billion people on the internet. They are aware that some governments do not support the free and open internet. They give us information on how forty-two countries filter content and that “In last two year, governments have enacted nineteen new laws threatening online free expression.”
Google has also tried to help uplift China’s banning by help of Facebook but thier plan backfired. The Chinese authorities attempted to hack into google accounts of many human rights activists. Shortly after this, Google announced that it was leaving China. Following this announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unknown call for regulation to guarantee that companies respect human rights. Weeks later, Hillary Clinton announced an innovative policy on internet freedom which states for a global reach by the government to counter threats of human rights.
Additionally, the United States might also have censorship on what their people view. Back In December 2017, The Senate and Federal Communications Commission voted on repealing net neutrality. Net neutrality is where internet service providers should treat all material on the internet equally. With the Senate voting to repeal this right, everyone will have to pay even more money to get other content and the best internet quality instead of everyone getting everything equally. Many people online started calling their state senators to let them know that they are against this and made #netneutrality on twitter to protest. What these senators are doing is another violation of our internet freedom, human right and freedom of expression.
Earlier in March 7, 2017, at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, they launched ‘The Global Principles on Freedom of Expression and Privacy’. It is a document which gives an understanding on adding these rights in the online world. Executive Director of Article 19, Thomas Hughes said “Digital technologies have facilitated huge advances for expression and access to information, while also exponentially increasing the creation of private data. Personal information can be collected and made available across borders on an unprecedented scale, and at minimal cost. Meanwhile, the application of data protection law and other measures to protect the right to privacy can have disproportionate impact on the exercise of freedom of expression.” Hughes gives a wonderful speech and explained on why he wanted to add them into the digital world.
Unesco, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization acknowledges that the internet hold an immense potential for development. Unesco believes it is their responsibility of promoting freedom of expression online and related morals like privacy. The organization inspects in changing legal infrastructure of internet and provides member states with policies and recommendations. They are aiming to cultivate a conducive environment for freedom of expression and privacy online.
The United Nations have also mentioned this subject and have said they consider online freedom to be a human right and that it must be protected. They have a passed a resolution stating “promotion, protection, and enjoyment of human rights on the internet”. That means it condemns any country to purposely impedes the internet access of its citizens. The resolution also declares that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. When this resolution was passed Russia and China opposed and offer some amendments in the document. No information on the amendments or what they did was announced.
Specifically, Resolutions like these put pressure on governments and the United Nations has decided to condemn internet shutdowns, says Emma Boyle in an article about the UN. In Turkey, the government supervised their Twitter and Facebook websites after an explosion in Ankara. In Alegria, they denied access to social media sites in order to stop students from cheating on tests.
Although delighted with the resolution and its formation of “strong human rights standards” Hughes states that it could and should advance as “the global situation for freedom of expression online demands more specific and detailed commitment from states to address other priority issues.” In future Human Rights Council resolutions, Hughes stresses that countries must fight these more particular primacy issues on “including abusive laws that target legitimate online dissent, government efforts to undermine anonymity and encryption, and attempts to exert underdue pressure on private ICT actors to engage in censorship.”
Therefore, these discussions circulating our internet rights will help to shape our future understanding of the importance of internet freedom. When expressing human rights themes of freedom of expression into digital and online context, upholding the rights to internet access is just one of many ways in which governments can begin rebuilding relationship with their citizens.