|We're not gonna take it. . .the internet, that is.|
In the face of government crackdowns on the free flow of information, Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, has released a report stressing that Internet access ought to be an essential right for all citizens.
La Rue's report connects Internet access with freedom of expression, a right guaranteed in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Rapporteur urges governments to open up Web access by developing action plans that make the Internet more available, accessible, and affordable.
"There should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in a few, very exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law," La Rue said in a statement. "Essentially, this means that any restriction must be clearly provided by law, and proven to be necessary and the least intrusive means available for the purpose of protecting the rights of others."
The report raised concerns about surveillance powers enacted under the pretense of counter-terrorism or national security. As a tool that enables the advocacy for change—not to mention holding those in power accountable—La Rue stressed that the Internet has ignited fear among some governments.
"Legitimate expression continues to be criminalized in many states, illustrated by the fact that in 2010, more than 100 bloggers were imprisoned," La Rue warned. "Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, and to monitor and identify activists and critics."
In Syria a government crackdown on the Internet is on full display. According to Renesys, a service that monitors Internet connectivity, as much as two-thirds of all Syrian networks went down on Friday. Access was reportedly restored on Saturday.
"In recent months, we have seen a growing movement of people around the world who are advocating for change – for justice, equality, accountability of the powerful and better respect for human rights," La Rue said. "However, the unique features of the Internet, which allow individuals to spread information instantly, to organize themselves, and to inform the world about situations of injustice and inequality, have also created fear among Governments and the powerful."
The UN Special Rapporteur's full report is, appropriately, available online.
The report earned praise from privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT). "The report by the Special Rapporteur raises concerns about justifying broad surveillance powers under the name of national security or counter-terrorism," EFF said in a statement. "La Rue should be commended for questioning the ostensible motives for online surveillance."
"As Rapporteur La Rue affirms, the Internet's unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights," said Cynthia Wong, Director of CDT's Project on Global Internet Freedom. "In order for these rights to be realized, governments, civil society and industry must all continue to build on the work begun by the Special Rapporteur."
I'm not entirely sure just yet what I think about this report. I kind of feel like this is sort of a "well, duh" report; what's coming next, the report on how it's wrong for governments to jail dissidents to keep them quiet? Another question I have on this report's findings has to do with its applicability to intellectual property rights - according to this report, there is no difference between Syria or Egypt or Libya shutting down the internet in an attempt to quell an uprising or rebellion and New Zealand's laws that allow repeat offenders of copyright infringement laws to be banned by their ISPs. Is freedom from incarceration the next "basic human right?" Will the UN condemn the jailing of murderers?
So what do you think?