As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective actions grows, access to the rest of wired humanity becomes more important. Today, United Nations special rapporteur Frank La Rue released a report on freedom of expression and the Internet that described cutting off Internet access as a breach of human rights. The report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, is an important data point as governments around the globe decide how to legislate, regulate or moderate the disruptive impact of the Internet.
The UN report comes at an important time. As Mathew Ingram wrote at GigaOm, reporting on the recently released UNESCO report on freedom of expression online, governments are still trying to kill, replace or undo the Internet.
“The report provides initial guidance for countries that are grappling with how to address complex Internet policy challenges while upholding their obligations to human rights,” said Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement released to the media.
“As Rapporteur La Rue affirms, the Internet’s unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights,” said Cynthia Wong, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Global Internet Freedom. “In order for these rights to be realized, governments, civil society and industry must all continue to build on the work begun by the Special Rapporteur.”
Both reports and the recent eg8 Summit shows online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. “The primary reason we need to support the Net is because it is a foundational part of how we have our democracy,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, speaking in Paris.
What’s at stake today has been what’s at stake for more than 15 years, said Benkler: The possibility that a coalition of forces who are afraid of the internet will shut it down.”There is still a very powerful counter argument, one that says both for innovation and for freedom, we need an open Net.”
If an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon our leaders to keep it open and accessible.