How the technical community frames the Internet and economic, social and cultural rights
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the issues surrounding strategies for cooperation with the technical community in the effort to advance economic, social and cultural rights (ESCRs) on the Internet. The paper begins by describing the framework for the analysis of the functional environment of the technical community. The latter part of the paper outlines some opportunities for making progress.
The analysis begins from the basic assumption that Internet rights are key to achieving human rights, and that all human rights find expression on and are often affected by the Internet. The initial human rights focus in Internet discussion has often been on civil and political rights such as freedom of expression and privacy. In June 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) affirmed that the same rights that apply offline also apply online.
These include the rights defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). A July 2014 resolution by the HRC further affirmed that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online” and added that “quality education plays a decisive role in development, and therefore calls upon all States to promote digital literacy and to facilitate access to information on the Internet, which can be an important tool in facilitating the promotion of the right to education.” Moreover, the resolution called on states to “promote and facilitate access to the Internet, as well as for international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communication facilities and technologies in all countries” and further called on states to “consider formulating, through transparent and inclusive processes with all stakeholders, and adopting national Internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access and furthering human rights at their core.”
This resolution, and the details contained within the ICESCR, serve to illustrate the degree to which economic, social and cultural rights are a consideration in the activities and policies of Internet technical community organisations. However, direct mentions of ESCRs or UN resolutions in the charters or work of Internet organisations are rare. For the most part, the organisations examined in this paper are engineering or technical policy organisations, and until recently the language of human rights was unknown and unheard in their proceedings. While this has begun to change in the area of civil and political rights due to the effort to make pervasive monitoring more difficult, it has not yet changed in the area of ESCRs. However, this does not mean that there are no linkages to ESCRs in either the foundational documents of these organisations or in their work.
The paper will also review various mechanisms by which the two complementary objectives can be fostered: to introduce human right concepts into the policy considerations for those who participate in the governance and maintenance of the Internet, and to develop proposals on how the enjoyment of rights can be improved through progressive realisation, including removing barriers and the judicious use of the Internet.