Saturday, 13 December 2008

Digital and Human Rights...

. Peter Bradwell, writing in the New Statesman, argues that it is high time human rights recognised the 'digital era we live in'. He argues that "our digital existences have become a new battlefield for our liberty and democratic principles." However, whether the plethora of new media that exists enhances our liberty is not clear for Bradwell.

It is pretty axiomatic that there will always be countervailing tendencies within any medium and equally that governments will seek to establish control over something where it has little or none. Also, the 'fear factor' about some internet content makes the case for regulation all the more persuasive and palatable to public opinion.

However, it is true to say that it is so embedded in our lives that we barely consider it and do take rights we assume we have for granted. Recent examples have also shown how, specifically with regard to the dissimulation of data (BNP member list, etc) it can come into conflict with the 'offline' body of law. In this instance the freewheeling nature of the internet actually was it's vice and not it's virtue.

Apart from the fact that the data available on the internet needs not to impinge on a right to privacy and/or people need to protected from government snooping on the internet there also needs to be a way to mediate between laws that exist 'offline' and the online environment. We are all aware that issues like censorship exist and could be easily incorporated a charter of 'digital rights' however solving that problem would be tricky to say the least. A charter would at least be able to begin the process of bridging that gap.

Bradwell rightly says that;

"If we do not stake a claim for such digital rights, then technology is merely in the service of the world as it currently is. The internet will become merely a shop, rather than an engine of social, political and economic innovation. We will not find new spaces for expression, debate and exchange but will find overly regulated, inhibited forums."

Arguing such a document should be "rights based" would also leave scope for the above mentioned gap to be filled with judicial interpretation. Asserting human rights in the digital sphere is just as important as any other sphere and is of especial relevance to a forward looking program of human rights which constantly evolves.

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