3:30 PM- Panel 4 - Human Rights in the 21st Century

Moderator: Marc Rotenberg, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Harry Hochheiser, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.

Jagdish Parikh, Human Rights Watch

Edwin Rekosh, Director, Public Interest Law Initiative in Transitional Societies

Felipe Rodriguez, Electronic Frontiers Australia

Laurie Wiseberg, Human Rights Internet

Report by Yaman Akdeniz, lawya@leeds.ac.uk, Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties (UK)

According to Laurie Wiseberg, Human Rights Internet (http://www.hri.ca) the Internet revolutionised the way we research and work. Urgent action networks are used to be distributed by telegrammes and faxes. In Chiapas, the Zapatista Movement now use the Internet in quite a revolutionary way for their own causes. According to Ms Wiseberg access is a critical issue -- with a paper journal they can aim to reach 2000 people but with the Internet millions can be reached with low costs. Even though it appears not to have a regulatory infrastructure, the Internet is in the hands of private bodies like ISPs or companies that provide search engines.

Who takes the decisions with important Internet policy issues such as free speech and privacy asked Mr Harry Hochheiser, member of the board of Directors of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility Who are these private organisations that are involved with regulatory issues ? According to Mr Hochheiser, CPSR is now involved with Internet governance of domain names and the forthcoming "One Planet, One Net" CPSR Campaign and Conference (http://www.cpsr.org/conferences/ annmtg98/) next weekend will deal with these issues.

According to Mr Hochheiser finance is a big problem for NGOs for promoting their own views. Mr Hochheiser would like to see groups such as CPSR and EFF being involved with ITF discussion on Internet governance of domain names.

Jagdish Parikh, Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org) who has been involved with free speech and privacy issues related to the Internet for a number of years raised important questions related to fundamental human rights:

"While it is widely understood that the Internet can open up global, faster and interactive communication, it is less well known that the Internet use also calls in to question long held assumptions about individual and communal rights. Some are old questions in a new context: What -- if any -- is the role of the government in regulating electronic communication? As ever more information is recorded and stored automatically, how can privacy rights be balanced with the right to know? What happens to individual privacy protections when information is a salable commodity? Does the form in which information is kept change the government's obligation to inform its citizens?"

Answers to these and other questions will shape human rights dialogues in the 21st century, according to Mr Parikh. "The prime beneficiary of new communication technologies is today's s youth, also known as the digital generation and this generation is not satisfied with yesterday's broadcast technologies. They increasingly demand interactive technologies which enable dialogues and allow them to speak with one another."

For the first time in history, a younger generation is more comfortable with knowledgeable about and literate in technology than their parents, guardians and teachers. And for the first time, an adult generation is faced with a challenge to formulate public policies about a media better known by a younger generation. "Ironically, the same generation has been largely left out of these social and political dialogues. What constitutes youth rights on-line is likely to be another key component shaping policies of citizens of tomorrow," said Mr Parikh.

According to Edwin Rekosh, Director Public Interest Law Initiative in Transitional Societies Columbia Law School (see (http://www.columbia.edu and http://www.pili.org), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is soft law but does not create any obligations for signing governments. But in history some binding treaties were produced following the UDHR. For example, the European Court of Human Rights have a good track record and such systems can work. Rekosh also mentioned article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to Rekosh you cannot stop citizens seeking information and that was the case with the Spycatcher case in which the British government tried to suppress the publications of the memoirs of an ex MI5 agent in Australia while the book was available in New York bookshops.

Felipe Rodriguez, of Electronic Frontiers Australia (http://www.efa.org.au) and one of the founders of XS4ALL in the Netherlands. Rodriguez said his expertise lies with the self-regulatory issues related to the Internet such as the creation of hotlines and effectiveness of these systems within Europe. According to Rodriguez, the use of strong encryption tools is an important tool for human rights activists as well as for the development of electronic commerce. But Rodriguez highlighted the fact that different policies in different countries slow down the development and use of this important technology. Rodriguez also criticised the filtering and rating systems that are used for Internet content. He pointed out that the same technology can be used to censor or filter any kind of information. Secondly, mandatory use of such filtering systems as default can be used for example to filter out what is going in and out of a country. Singapore is such country that uses one of these tools known as PICS. In Europe, according to Rodriguez is the use of felf-regulatory systems rather than creation of new laws.

Rodriguez also explained the case in which Internet providers in Germany have blocked the Dutch Web site Access For All ('XS4ALL'), in response to legal threats from the German government, removing German users' access to the entire XS4ALL system. The German government demanded this action because XS4ALL hosts a Web page called Radikal by the Dutch 'Solidarity Group for Political Prisoners'. Radikal magazine is an offspring of the radical left german activist movements which is illegal in Germany.. As a result of the German government's action there are now more than 40 mirror sites of the Radikal web page all around the world.

Last Remarks by the author:

The panel highlighted the importance of the Internet for human rights issues and for social use rather than commercial use in the light of the forthcoming OECD Ministerial conference which will follow the GILC conference in Ottawa between October 8-9. It is now time for the regulators, the industry and governments to realise that the Internet is not all about e-commerce but there are wider issues which deserve equal amount of attention. Public Voice was heard today with the GILC conference now it is time for these to be taken into account.

"The Public Voice in the Development of Internet Policy"

October 7, 1998

Global Internet Liberty Campaign Conference