Right to education and right to food are priorities in Indian policy, the right to Internet is some way off. But Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression who was in India last week says it is part of a population’s human rights. La Rue is a human rights lawyer from Guatemala and currently an Internet evangelist. He says he is creating a new space to work for human rights in this sphere.
He was here because he is preparing a report on Internet and freedom of expression. La Rue was at a global consultation in Stockholm in June and is now attending regional consultations. His take on issues, as expressed at various meetings in Delhi:
Internet access from a rights perspective:
The issues of addressing internet from a rights approach has advanced significantly. There are differences in national priorities, but I was a bit shocked to discover that Indian which known as super power of technology has only 7 per cent of population connected. China has 450 million people connected. I find that India is this incredibly advanced country in all forms of research and technology at the same time those are being used by very few.
Access is most imp issue. all the rights for all the people. There are critical moments when citizens become journalists. when they document a case. I believe Internet is a major issue for freedom of expression. it is an instrument of democratisation and mobilisation sometimes well used, sometimes not well used.
Why did people wait 30 yrs to topple Mubarak. The reaction of the population has also to do wtih access to information. i believe that events in North Africa are deeply linked to the Internet, to the valour and organising skills of the population using the Internet.
On the Internet’s relevance in developing countries:
I don’t think in the future there will be a possibility of development of poor communities if they are not interconnected. i think it is crucial that poorest and most isolated communities have access to break the isolation in which they live. Access of content. In the future education will not be able to exist without the Internet. it is linked to right of mobilisation and freedom of expression.
What communications technology should mean for free expression:
The trend in the global debate is that we have individuals commenting on the Internet, and companies working to establish norms and regulations. Now governments and states are becoming more active in trying to set the boundary for what is acceptable and what is not. Keep the Net open some feel. Some want control. There are serious security issues, but our take on this is not a take on security and human rights. Guatemala is similar to India on many issues. I come from a developing nation and I wanted to bring that perspective to this issue.
The trend is to over-commercialise communication. But freedom of expression is not the right to speak of those who live in the capital of country but also of every one even in remote areas. Indigenous people around the world have to use the means of communication to maintain their culture. You break domestic violence by raising the voices of women on this issue.
People have an isolated view of human rights. The right to freedom of expression means access to ways of expressing yourself, is the view we take. You need a legal framework, etc for strong democracy, but most important of all is citizen particiapation,and citizen’s participationis related directly knowledge and information which people have. What i discovered at the Internet Global Forum is that it is an open forum to discuss new technological developments, but lacked a human rights perspective.
On Internet restrictions:
each country has to define for themselves what is public order. Limitations and restrictions are different. Limitation is absolute. restriction is administrative. Pornography for child should be banned, It is a form of violence in itself. It is misuse of internet. But that could also happen with the printing press of Gutenberg.
Blocking child pornography is fine but also investigate the perpetrators. That is more important than blocking the system.
On the report he is preparing as the Rapporteur:
Access is one of the issues I want to develop in the report. There are four main topics: limitations and censorship on the Internet-- the technical and legal side. Criminalization, and use and abuse of the defamation law--pushing on to the ISP (internet service provider) the decision of blocking the internet. Privacy and data protection. And the fourth issue is access.
Access in terms of content as well. In China there are 450 million users but what can they access on the Internet? Access in terms of technical and physical infrastructure. Do people have access to servers and laptops and computers? Economic difficulties should not limit access to internet.