Frequently Asked Questions - What are the burning internet rights issues?

Human rights are universal and apply to everyone everywhere, offline and online. However, the internet and its global decentralised infrastructure creates a number of unique situations where these rights need to be specifically addressed and understood. In this section a few of these issues are outlined together with APC’s position.

What is a Human Rights Council expert panel?

A group of people chosen to consider a particular subject and advise the Human Rights Council. The HRC has these for all sorts of issues from country specific investigations (e.g about Syria or Sri Lanka) to topical issues like freedom of peaceful assembly, which was the focus of the 18th session.

First up, we rallied support for the Panel by making joint statements and writing to governments and encouraging other NGOs to support it as well.

Now that the HRC has voted to go ahead with a panel, we will try to work closely with the Swedish government on the terms of reference, to suggest experts, share our research and mobilise engagement as part of the Connect Your Rights! Campaign. If all goes well, we would look to follow up the Panel’s recommendations in the UPR processes that we are supporting in India, Brazil, South Africa and the Philippines which will go before the HRC in June 2012.

Yes! The panel outcomes may be weak if the “experts” are not of high quality or there is weak or ill-informed engagement on the issues, or the sponsoring State does not co-ordinate the process well. Because there is no process for a resolution to be voted on at the end of the panel, there is a risk that discussion will remain very diplomatic, that it may water down the substance of the issues, and that it still gives the possibility for opponents to disrupt debate or ensure there are no concrete outcomes.

There is no set procedure for Panels. Generally, it is up to the leading sponsor State to coordinate the identification of panelists and the general concept note of the meeting. A panel consists of a 3 hour formal UN debate – usually introduced by 4-5 experts in the field and high level personalities. States and some NGOs respond to that with their political statements. At the end the Panel reports to the Council, hopefully with some recommended actions. This might happen at the 19th session of the HRC in March 2012.

A Panel is often seen as the softest, risk-free step that the Council can take on an issue. Sometimes these kinds of panels are criticized because of that – too weak an option, not really doing anything, delay tactic etc. On the other hand it is a good entry point for a new issue and it’s safe in the sense that there is no automatic follow up.
However, it’s useful for bringing a new agenda forward or consolidating an issue without negotiating a resolution, and without risking creating divisions around a bad resolution For this reason I think it is a really good option for the internet rights are human rights work. If it goes badly, the outcome won’t be strategically damaging and it will give us a chance to see how states will engage.

The practice of treating all content, information and users on the internet equally is generally referred to as Network Neutrality. Network Neutrality has become an important issue in the last few years as some ISP’s have attempted to “shape” internet connections by favouring certain types of content over others. Examples include slowing down large downloads or offering VOIP only to those paying to use that specific service.

Chile, and more recently the Netherlands have recently passed legislation defending the principle of network neutrality.

A recent controversy involving network neutrality was the deal between Google and Verizon in 2010. This deal stated that prohibitions against ISPs steering traffic based on users or content excluded wireless providers. In essence, it allows for wireless ISPs to mange traffic on their network in any way they choose.

Affordable, universal access to the internet is far from a reality. While some countries have enacted legislation which guarantees access, others are more hesitant, acknowledging the internet’s importance for development but wary of considering it a basic right.

Access to the internet is a multifaceted issue which goes beyond access to the physical infrastructure. However, access to the physical infrastructure is necessary for internet access, and the internet’s backbone is constantly developing. Please click here to see current status of undersea cables, which are very important for enabling access in the developing world.

APC believes that the internet, with all its potential for enabling democracy, development and knowledge-sharing, should be seen as a public good. As such, governments should take steps to enable affordable access for all citizens. As described in the freedom of expression section we see universal internet access as a critical building block for exercising the rights to freedom of expression and association.

APC calls upon states, particularly developing states, to adopt and implement unversal internet access programmes in their endeavor to promote development in urban as well as rural areas. Meanwhile, APC calls upon developed states to facilitate such programmes by developing an inclusive internet infrastructure with a focus on bridging the digital divide.

However, it is important to understand that access to the internet is a multi-faceted concept, including access to the internet in local languages, access for disabled persons and the ability for everyone, including local minorities, to develop and share their own content.

Internet intermediaries are the private corporations providing services on the internet through hosting, transmitting, giving access to and indexing internet content. Examples of intermediaries are internet service providers, web site hosts, search engines and social network providers.

In recent years states have begun relying on these intermediaries to conduct filtering of online content and monitoring of users’ activities. By holding intermediaries liable for third party content, such as defamation or media piracy, states encourage them to censor all but the most mainstream content. The result is typically excessive filtering and a chilling effect on free speech.