A Net of Rights? New film links Human Rights and Internet Protocols

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04 Mar 2016



Today, 4 March, ARTICLE 19 and Coding Rights are launching Net of Rights, a short film which explores the link between internet protocols and human rights online. The film will screen at 6pm at the Internet Freedom Festival, or can be seen on the Net of Rights website.

Net of Rights: Trailer from ARTICLE 19 on Vimeo.

It is too-often assumed that there is no link between protocols (the standards which underpin the way the internet functions) and human rights, but this is simply not the case, as the film argues.

The Internet aspires to be the global ‘network of networks’, providing connectivity for all users, at all times, for any content. Connectivity increases the capacity for individuals to exercise their rights, meaning that the architectural design of the internet is, necessarily, intertwined with the human rights framework.

 Promoting open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for the rights to privacy, expression and assembly. But how are these concepts addressed at the protocol level? Without proper definition, the human rights-enabling characteristics of the internet are at risk.

The role of human rights in Internet policy is slowly becoming part of the general discourse. Former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, explicitly spoke of the replationship, leading to the approval of the landmark resolution "on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet" at the UN Human Rights Council, and the resolution "The right to privacy in the digital age" at the UN General Assembly.

Mapping the relationship between human rights and internet protocols and architectures is a new research challenge, which requires the development of a consistent methodology, bringing human rights experts together with the community of researchers and developers of Internet standards and technologies. The Human Rights Protocol Research Group is a group chartered to research how standards and protocols (the rules by which the internet functions) can enable, strengthen, or threaten human rights.

The rights-enabling characteristics of the Internet will be increasingly endangered if they are not properly defined, described and protected as such.  And, indeed, the other way around: by not protecting these characteristics, we risk loss of functionality and connectivity in the architecture of the internet itself.

To protect human rights online, it will be necessary to explore and map the link between rights and protocol, ensuring the survival of a decentralized and collaborative internet, in which freedom of expression through unimpeded connectivity remains a central principle, and a guiding force.


Conceived in partnership between ARTICLE 19 and Coding Rights, this film aims to highlight the importance of addressing this issue within the technical community and human rights advocates, but also to feed into the work of the Human Rights Protocol Considerations research group (HRPC) in the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF). This group is currently mapping the relation between human rights and Internet protocols, in order to strengthen the Internet as a human rights enabling environment, in which freedom of expression through unimpeded connectivity remains a central principle and guiding force.

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