Internet Freedom Documents Easier to Sign than Follow
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
July 06 2012 04:00 PM ET
CREDIT: 1000 Words / Shutterstock.com
Pressure is building for global Internet rights. This week saw the launch of the Declaration of Internet Freedom from U.S. activists and the passage of a United Nations resolution that says people have the same rights online as they do offline.
But upholding the principles of both documents will be a challenge for developed and developing nations alike.
The U.S. Declaration of Internet Freedom, a petition published July 2, establishes five basic principles for lawmakers and voters to use as a framework for considering how new laws affect an Internet ideal: free expression, access to all, openness, innovation and privacy.
On July 5, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed the first resolution that says Internet access and online expression are basic human rights, equal to a free elementary school education, the right to own property and others covered in the U.N.'s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Essentially, the new resolution extends the basic right of free expression to the Internet. Further, the resolution recognizes that the Internet is a driving force for progress, particularly in developing nations, and access should be facilitated — not blocked — by governments.
The resolution was presented by a global coalition, including Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.
"We are witnessing an alarming surge in the number of cases involving government censorship and persecution of individuals for their actions online," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement issued in Washington. "Sometimes for just a single tweet or text message."
While 85 countries endorsed the resolution, it may be difficult for some to reconcile it with policy at home.
China is one of the more restrictive countries, known for its "Great Firewall" that blocks Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Russia today will vote on a bill to create a national blacklist for sites that contain "extremist ideas." Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo earlier this year faced criminal charges in India for hosting religiously offensive content. However, both India and China supported the resolution. [How to Kill the Internet]
And what of countries such as Nigeria where using Skype could result in a 15-year prison sentence? Nigeria was one of the countries that co-sponsored the resolution.
In the U.S., battles often take place on a different field. Verizon is challenging the FCC's net neutrality rules in the courts, which if successful, could allow Verizon to block Skype and other Internet-based calling apps from its phones. And in a Manhattan criminal court, a judge this week ordered Twitter to turn over messages sent by a protester during the Occupy Wall Street protests last fall. The judge said that tweets are public and are not protected like private speech.
Neither the U.N. resolution nor the Declaration of Internet Freedom is enforceable, but combined they could be the beginning of a more open Internet.