Towards a Human Internet? Rules, Rights, and Responsibilities for Our Online Future

EuroDIG – Lisbon: WORKSHOP 4

This workshop, organized by the IGF Internet Rights and Principles Coalition and the Council of Europe, focused on a selection of practical scenarios around internet infrastructure design, access, content provision, and use in the context of human rights. The workshop was an interactive, bottom-up session that drew on audience experiences and expertise. The aim was to unpack examples where selected human rights are at stake, overlooked, or potentially undermined. The objective was to raise awareness of these connections as well as consider ways to move these projects forward light of two ongoing projects; the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet (IRP Coalition 2011), and the Compendium of Existing Rights for Internet Users (CoE, 2013).

First, a panel of four speakers from industry, consumer groups, human rights advocacy, and legal scholarship provided brief introductions to the key issues from their perspective. The workshop then divided into 4 breakout/ brainstorming sessions who reported back in the concluding section along four specific rights-based lines of discussion articulated in the Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet: 1) Freedom of Expression and Human Dignity; 2) Economic, technological, and physical barriers to access; 3) Right to Privacy and Security issues; 4) enablers and impediments to realizing human rights online. The outcomes of the breakout groups were reported as follows:
(1)Freedom of expression/Human Dignity 
Questions discussed: What is Freedom of Expression on internet / How can people learn more about it and protect their rights/ How can they be protected?
Ways forward
i) The European court is correcting decisions of national courts, e.g. in cases of Freedom of expression.
ii) The Impact of the CoE guidelines: which have being adopted by companies and are adopted into legislation in some countries. 
iii) User groups are drawing on the CoE guidelines to make them user-friendly for citizens. 
iv) The Internet providers need to be more involved in informing and educating users.
(2) Internet Access/Economic, Sociocultural and Technological barriers
Participants shared some concrete examples and issues from their experience about how internet service provision and infrastructure can create barriers for special needs or disadvantaged communities. Conclusions covered:

  • It is important that governments, civil society and companies are aware that digital exclusion exists and that excessive barriers are preventing groups of our society to have equal right to access the Internet ( These are not only physical barriers such infrastructure or physical disabilities and also cultural / educational barriers or bureaucracy

  • More than just providing access it is important that governments ensure that the protection of the Human Rights online is safeguarded. This includes the right to access information basic and public services and the right to education.

  • It is also important that companies and the rights-holders industry don’t prevent people from exercising their rights because of contradictory copyrights for accessing content by visually or hearing impaired users.

In sum, the session agreed that the issue is more than providing the means and the tools to access the Internet. It is important to educate people on how to use the tools and about the range of possibilities that the technologies and the Internet can open to them in order to fulfill their full potential as human beings.
(3) Right to Privacy/Security

The outcomes of this session was in the form of 4 recommendations:

1. Message to EU on PRISM/NSA events: the revision of the EU data protection framework should guarantee that EU citizens are protected by EU law on privacy and data protection even when they use foreign online services or platforms 

2. Message to EU and European States: Any EU or national legislation should be compliant with European legislation on privacy and data protection. And any limitation to the right to privacy and personal data protection should be proportionate and absolutely necessary in a democratic society  

3. More States should sign and ratified the Council of Europe Convention 108  to harmonize the level of data protection transnationally.   

4. More education on privacy and data protection issues is necessary. This should be part of human rights education and should be introduced in schools’s curricula. 

(4) Realizing human rights online/Enablers and Impediments 
The Question for general discussion was: Where and how do users need to know, and be able to exercise their rights? 
After a round where specific barriers and impediments were shared from various perspectives (e.g. community projects for poorer neighbourhoods, issues around visually impaired programs, web uses for deaf persons, uneven funding and resources) immediate issues of concern were:
– Need for education: users, politicians, judges and prosecutors
– Need for transparency of procedures between states and platforms 

 – Need for quick and efficient remedies for users! Clear procedures

The question about whether Human Rights should be applicable online was not up for debate. This group then discussed procedures about how to make sure that those rights are actually being protected, and exercised e.g. how to ensure governments and corporations comply with guidelines that already exist. 

The group noted that

  • more transparency and accountability is needed from industry and public sector providers. 
  • Awareness and education are essential. Users and citizens need to know their rights and which tools are available for them to exercise their human rights, their citizen rights or their consumer rights. They also need to trust the Internet and for that we may need legislation that not only exists, but can be enforced when this rights are violated. 
  • One point of disagreement was around the role that regulators should, or should not play, around the extent to which new laws are need or existing laws are sufficient in ensuring that the above priorities are met.

Summing up the workshop as a whole, three broad themes emerged:

  1. The need for concerted awareness-raising about the interrelationship between human rights and internet futures
  2. The need for more educational initiatives across sectors (schools, higher education, the workplace) that is broad based about how digital literacy and knowledge about rights are intertwined
  3. To advocate to policymakers the need for holistic, human-centred and locally embedded approaches to decisions that affect internet infrastructure, we-design, access, and use. 
Towards a Human Internet? Rules, Rights, and Responsibilities for Our Online Future
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