Session description: The coalition was first founded under the name Internet Bill of Rights Coalition and led by many participants, including the government of Italy. Organizers state that "in the name of security, liberties are restricted; in the name of a short-sighted market approach, chances of fair access to knowledge are limited; alliances between corporations and authoritarian states try to impose new forms of censorship; the Internet must not become an instrument to better control the millions of people who use it, to grab personal information from people against their will, to seal the new forms of knowledge behind proprietary fences." The purpose of the meeting is to continue to extend a platform for the emergence of and agreement on definitions of Internet rights and principles.
Organizers said their goal is to gain approval of the charter at the 2011 Internet Governance Forum, which will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, if the United Nations General Assembly votes to extend the IGF mandate.
Coalition co-organizer Lisa Horner of the United Kingdom said the hope is that as work is done to create a final document, the discussion will serve as a platform for collaboration, and the document can serve as a resource to help establish global norms - as an advocacy tool for groups lobbying governments and other organizations for online rights.
The document is a collaborative work created by a global group of contributors who made suggestions and changes in an online wiki before all of that content was edited and organized by a group of specialists that included Wolfgang Benedek, Meryem Marzouki, Rikki Frank Joergensen, Andrew Rens, Roberto Saba and Wang Sixin.
"This really is a draft," Horner said. "We are all aware there are issues to be resolved. There are still things that are missing, things that we feel we could take out. We are keen to consult with different people and groups because we want this to be a commonly owned document."
She said it is not expected to be taken for an official global vote."We don't aim to take this to the UN and to demand that it is enshrined into international law," she explained.
"It is not a feasible goal. It is supposed to be a norm-setting document, so once we have a coherent document that is really authoritative and we are happy with it, it could be a resource for people."
At root, the coalition is calling for a consensus on the idea that all people deserve universal access to the Internet. All other rights on Internet, notably those involving free expression, come into play only after access is achieved, said participant Frank LaRue, a UN representative on free expression and a human rights adviser in Guatemala.
“Access is the crucial one,” he said, adding that free expression is one of the more complex rights, since it involves stages of Internet use in gathering and receiving information as well as opinion-building. Rights involved in this are not only civil and political but economic and social, he argued.
"We cannot talk about education today without linking it to the Internet," he said. "And it is linked to economic rights. Today even the poorest in the world have to have this form of communication in order to be able to participate in the economic life in their region or their country or internationally."
Access was the key right identified “by a significant margin” in six regional IGF forums on human rights, said Dixie Hawtin, a coalition participant who like Horner works for the London-based consulting firm Global Partners.
Hawtin explained that an Internet-specific approach to human rights is needed "to ensure we are investing in the Internet ecosystem and to bring in minimum standards that governments are already to a large extent agreed to be bound by, and it would help inform state people who make policy decisions so the work according to Internet standards which are well-developed and well-accepted."
"It helps us all to see how the language of human rights is relevant to the Internet," she said.
A group of about 50 participants in this dynamic coalition meeting at IGF in Vilnius examined the 20-page document, titled "Draft 1.0 of the Charter of Human Rights and Principles on the Internet." (See the full document here: http://internetrightsandprinciples.org) The charter covers rights from gender equity to educational rights to protection from censorship.
One of the questions raised by people in on the discussion at IGF was: Is the document, with its 21 categories, too long or too short? Some speakers at this meeting wanted a simpler statement. Others called for a less comprehensive document or perhaps a collection of statements defined by topic.
Another question raised was whether it is possible for broad principles to be enforced by state or regional governments.
And some participants in the meeting questioned whether any charter should be seen as any more than a powerful set of ideals, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some critics of this coalition have said the 1948 Universal Declaration stands as complete, with no need for an "Internet version" of human rights.
A primary author of the draft is Benedek, a professor of international law at the University of Graz in Austria, who said drafters used the 1948 declaration as a starting point and tried to keep the text brief and dedicated to essentials that apply in all areas of online activity.
He said this rights document takes into account many previous works, among them, the Universal Declaration; the Internet Charter of the Association for Progressive Communications; the charter for Innovation, Creativity and Access to Knowledge of the Barcelona Forum; World Summit on the Information Society documents; and Brazil's Ten Principles for the Internet.
He said that "principles" are included along with "rights," "meaning not everything you find there can be considered a human right, but may be a principle which is giving guidance and orientation on how to deal with a particular issue at stake."
He agreed with Horner that it is not an expectation that states will ratify the final document. "The idea is rather to understand the soft law as a guideline, as a code of conduct which looks for the endorsement of as many individuals and institutions as possible."
Marzouki, a senior researcher with the French National Scientific Research Center, assembled a second section that ties rights in the charter to appropriate entities, from governments to service providers to members of the public.
She explained that there was a long discussion as to whether there should be two documents - one for rights and one for principles. "Finally, we decided to incorporate human rights and principles in a single charter but to have a second document that would be more specific to the online environment and directed a different entities which in our opinion should be bound by one provision or another."
Organizers emphasized the fluidity of the process. Horner said the coalition has “come a long way” in the past year and the members of the coalition will next seek feedback next from outside organizations and from specialists in specific areas. The coalition’s goal, she and Benedek said, is to reach a broad acceptance, which takes patience.
Not everyone wants to wait. Brett Solomon, executive director of Access, which lobbies for digital freedom, said he wants a document immediately that people can rally around. “Massive decisions are being made in all of these rooms,” he said, referring to the scale of the IGF events, “and we’re still talking about a charter.”
Max Senges, a Germany-based policy expert with Google and another coalition leader, suggested the group issue a statement saying that human rights is the basis of all Internet governance.
The full version of the draft charter is available at the coalition’s website at http://internetrightsandprinciples.org.
The UN's video recording of the meeting can be found at this link:
The UN's official transcript of the meeting can be found at this link:
- Senior segment producers, Glenn Scott and Janna Anderson