Internet Access And Human Rights Highlighted Alongside UN Human Rights Council 28/09/2010 by Kaitlin Mara for Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Can the digital environment be used in a way that promotes real human rights? A group of activists speaking yesterday alongside the ongoing UN Human Rights Council believes that it can, and provided several examples of work they are doing to make that happen. The internet can facilitate community building, and help coordinate the activities of human rights activists, speakers said. But there are dangers. There is a new action before the European Parliament that would challenge anonymity online, which demonstrates the risk that new technologies could become new tools in the hands of governments in order to control, rather than to encourage more participation, said Marco Perduca, a member of the Italian Senate for the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational & Transparty. The 27 September event, “Digital Democracy: Using Virtual Ways to Promote Real Rights,” was organised by the Nonviolent Radical Party, Transnational & Transparty, which draws inspiration from the tactics of Mahatma Gandhi in using nonviolent means to influence law. Access to the internet is itself being recognised around the world as a matter of rights, said Christine Runnegar of the Internet Society. Ecuador, for example, recently passed a law about the right to access information and communications technologies, and Finland, too, recently granted rights to access information, she said. But even as the internet provides access to a large amount of information, a lot of it is banal and low quality, cautioned Marino Busdachin of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. The internet has provided “an incredible amount of information, but less knowledge about what is happening,” and especially about what is happening between citizens and their governments, he said. But he later said there was enormous potential when ordinary citizens used the internet as a means of social change. The Internet Society has several initiatives intended to aid the cause of access to information and human rights via digital technology, Runnegar said. For example, they are working to provide “freedom phones” involving voice-over-internet protocol on a dedicated server. Activists working to combat sexual violence, especially in the Congo, have been threatened and some even traced and killed as a result of information shared over tapped mobile phones, said Runnegar. Freedom phones would protect the identity of people sending or receiving calls for help or sharing information, she said. The internet can also help to build community ties and assist in the organisation of diaspora groups working on human rights issues, said Sepideh Sadeghi, who at a young age fled West Balochistan, a region in Iran, and now lives in Norway. When she was a child, Sadeghi recalled meeting once a year to discuss the issues with other members of the Baloch diaspora. But this was expensive, and the annual meetings were not enough to effect true political change. Now, “with the internet, we can make the discussion part of our daily lives,” she said. Through online conversations the diaspora can “present a truer identity” of the Baloch people than the state does, she said, and can encourage people to use their native language, wear traditional clothing, and use Baloch names, things normally discouraged in Iran. The internet was also crucial in communicating to the outside world issues of violence around last year’s elections in Iran, said Perduca. But, with the help of several large telecommunications companies, said Sadeghi, Iran has build one of the largest systems for surveilling the internet. After the elections, communications online slowed down even further, perhaps evidence that communications were being inspected, she said. Kathy Polias of the World Uyghur Congress said it is “no secret that internet repression is everywhere in China,” but added it was particularly severe in the Uyghur region. After a protest in July 2009 sparked by the beating and killing of at least two Uyghur factory workers by Han Chinese factory workers (there are two documented, but Polias said there are believed to have been more) turned violent, the Chinese government blamed the internet for sparking social unrest and “endangering state security.” Several Uyghur webmasters were charged, and many Uyghur language websites remain shut down, she said. Busdachin briefly presented a project he is working on a project called Haystack, which aims to provide unfiltered access to the internet in cases such as Iran’s where the internet is heavily filtered. Other speakers included Niccolò Figà-Talamanca, who presented a plan to map the evolution of conflicts – both geographically and chronologically – in a visually appealing way, as well as Stéphane Koch of Reporters Without Borders. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Kaitlin Mara may be reached at email@example.com."Internet Access And Human Rights Highlighted Alongside UN Human Rights Council" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.