The United Nations in a historical move, passed a landmark resolution that affirms same rights for people both offline as well as online
July 22, 2012: In a landmark decision taken earlier in the month of July this year, the United Nations Human Rights Council, has passed a resolution that protects freedom of individuals over the internet.
With this, the role of internet firms in protecting the human rights is likely to come under scrutiny as hitherto, they have only helped the countries in the production of online monitoring and censoring tools.
Abiding by the exact words mentioned in the resolution, the council “Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice”. The declaration was made “in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;”
Interestingly, countries such as China that are notorious for imposing heavy restrictions over the web via “The Great Firewall” has also supported the non-binding resolution.
While it leveraged technology from Cisco, various other censoring authorities in different nations too sought the assistance of internet firms to block websites. In such a scenario, it would be worthwhile seeing the way these private companies would behave in spite of the resolution.
Twitter is however among the few internet organisations that emphasizes on transparency and advocates to inform users while their data is being under surveillance by any third party and it has already played proactive role during the ‘Occupy Wall Street movement’ and the Wikileaks row, earlier this year.
Like Twitter, Facebook too furnishes the information about the takedown request it receives from various countries and alongside, also mentions the extent to which it abides by those complaints.
In a survey conducted by Pew Internet Center to ascertain the extent to which the private sector would go in protecting the internet freedom of the commoners as expressed by the Human Rights Council, the response was a sort of mixed bag.
Most of the executives from technology companies, academic personalities and political analysts were of the mind that the private firms would first try to safeguard their bottom lines and in the run, would join forces with repressive regimes.
Talking about this issue, the professor in University of Nevada’s Sociology department said, “Firms might decide to implement steps that protect dissidents only if it is cost-effective for them to do so,”
Somini Sengupta, in her NYTimes.com blog cites “dealing with local laws that prohibit certain kinds of content, like certain kinds of references to the royal family in Thailand or atheism in Turkey” as among the most probable challenges the private companies are set to face.
When asked about the extent to which the technology companies would go in order to help the repressive regimes, the opinions in the Pew report were evenly divided. While one half was of the mind that such companies would be punished by the online users, the other half maintained that the greed to earn profits would tempt them not to bother about the way their products would be used.
In the meantime Ken Roth the executive director at Human Rights Watch said that the resolution is not binding and is principally useful for public shaming.
He said, “That even China, despite the obvious hypocrisy, felt compelled to sign on shows it isn’t comfortable publicly owning up to the Internet censorship regime that it tries to maintain,”.
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