Wrong Turn

So the UN has taken some research material and come to some interesting conclusions.

For the purpose of this discussion let’s make some baseline assumptions. Human rights can be defined as natural or inalienable rights. These are distinct a different from legal rights which are granted by governing bodies. From very superficial research, it appears that our founding fathers may have blurred the lines between these two “types” of rights. By the inclusion of specific inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence, and by the specific enumeration of what they felt were inalienable rights within the Bill of Rights, the line between the two has been blurred. A couple of examples: Freedom to worship as you choose; inalienable or legal? I argue that is a fundamental human right. Freedom of speech; inalienable or legal? Again I argue that as being a fundamental human right. On other counts they nailed it: Right to a speedy trial, definitely a legal right, etc.

The LA Times has an article up on this report, and links to the report itself. Here are a couple of the parts that I find most interesting:

The Special Rapporteur believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.

Indeed, the recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights.

Absolutely agree. The internet is a fantastic tool for communication, and collaboration. That is what it was built for, and the evolution in software, and hardware that has taken place since the first DARPA network was built has facilitated this wonderful tool that we have.

Such platforms are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information.

Furthermore, producers of traditional media can also use the Internet to greatly expand their audiences at nominal cost. More generally, by enabling individuals to exchange information and ideas instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders, the Internet allows access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable.

This, in turn, contributes to the discovery of the truth and progress of society as a whole.

“…discovery of truth…”? Uh, maybe not the best turn of a phrase there. The facts are not always what is being communicated through our communication tools. Start at misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, opinions, etc. Everyone wants to win their arguments, influence viewers and readers, and as a result facts are selectively chosen for presentation. Let’s take that a step farther, where (within the world, inclusive of the internet) are the facts? The aphorism is, “History books are written by the winners”. Everything is clouded by opinion, getting to the truth very rarely happens.

Given that access to basic commodities such as electricity remains difficult in many developing States, the Special Rapporteur is acutely aware that universal access to the Internet for all individuals worldwide cannot be achieved instantly.

However, the Special Rapporteur reminds all States of their positive obligation to promote or to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the means necessary to exercise this right, including the Internet.

Hence, States should adopt effective and concrete policies and strategies –- developed in consultation with individuals from all segments of society, including the private sector as well as relevant Government ministries -– to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all.

As we work are way through to the bottom line here, we see that the UN recognizes the freedom of expression is a human right. I think we can all agree to that, right up to the point that that expression cross the legal and societal boundaries of a particular jurisdiction. The recognize that the internet is an enabling tool. I can agree with that. And finally as you work your way through the report, there are many calls to action for nation-states to facilitate access and maintain open access to the network, and internet tools with recognitions that there are physical and logistical constraints to achieving that.

The headline for the LA Times article: “United Nations report: Internet access is a human right”.

Hmm, I don’t think the report says that. Further, if it did I think it would be wrong. The freedom of expression is an inalienable right. Using a specific tool, not so much.

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