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Human Rights Internet Governance

Building bridges between the Internet and the Rights Communities

By Kathy Brown, Internet Society President and CEO, and Nicolas Seidler, Policy Advisor

Two weeks ago, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a new Resolution (A/HRC/26/L.24) on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.

The text re-affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online. While it may seem obvious today, the practical implementation of this principle – previously the centerpiece of 2012’s HRC Resolution 20/8 – triggered intense discussions over the past two years, including at the IGF and throughout the WSIS+10 Review process.

Indeed, translating human rights and associated principles such as proportionality, necessity and due process into the virtual world is a challenging task. It requires that governments, civil society, the private sector, the academic and technical communities work closely together.

Building bridges

In that respect, the Resolution is an important building block towards stronger ties between the human rights and the Internet communities. Over the past two years, closer cooperation has emerged around issues of common concern, including pervasive online surveillance, blocking of services or Internet shut-downs.

Acknowledging the outcomes of NETmundial, the Resolution itself promotes a multistakeholder approach by calling “[…] upon all States to consider formulating, through transparent and inclusive processes with all stakeholders […] national Internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at their core”.

Open Internet for Human Rights

Of particular significance to the Internet technical community, the Resolution recognizes the “global, open and interoperable nature of the Internet” as an enabling factor for the enjoyment of human rights online and as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development.

This is key. Openness and global interoperability are pivotal elements of the Internet’s success and potential as a global engine for economic, political, cultural, and social progress. The Internet was designed as a decentralized, end-to-end network that empowers the edges of the network rather that its center. Similarly, these very characteristics are essential for the Internet to empower a global community of decentralized users with the tools for economic and social development.

If we want to build a vision based on confidence and trust, we must steer the benefits of the Internet as a positive force – rather than a threat – for human rights. Turning that vision into reality will require collective action and further efforts to strengthen collaboration between all stakeholders.