Since the beginning of 2015, governments have shut down citizens’ access to the internet at least 35 times, according to the digital rights group Access Now. Now, the United Nation’s wants it to stop.
A resolution passed on July 1 by the United Nations Human Rights Council calls on all States to refrain from any effort to “intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law.”
The resolution reaffirms 2012’s historic resolution on Internet Free Speech, which was renewed in 2014, before the current wave of government shutdowns.
In 2016 alone, shutdowns have been reported in Malaysia, Chad, Uganda, India, Syria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Brazil, Iraq, North Korea, Vietnam, Algeria, India, Bahrain and Turkey.
During these shutdowns access to the lab is generally limited to government officials and those who use workarounds like our Freedome VPN.
Perhaps the most historic aspect of the resolution is the declaration that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online,” noting that freedom of expression is applicable “regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice.” This is a standard that could become more and more relevant as virtual reality becomes an increasing part of our lives, and a place where millions of people may end up working.
Access is not only political issue but also an economic one.
In the United States, the country that pioneered the internet, tens of millions of Americans still lack broadband access. Finland has declared broadband access a human right since 2010 and the United Nations echoed that call last year. But the best the connection in the world is meaningless if the government can just hit the off switch.
This UN measure is non-binding but does allow rights groups around the globe to pressure not only governments and but also corporations who do business in countries that deny net access.
“Development and human rights protections are strengthened in tandem when networks remain open, secure, and stable,” Global Policy and Legal Counsel at Access Now Peter Micek explains. “All stakeholders, from telcos to activists to judges, must band together to demand an end to shutdowns.”
The resolution passed by consensus but did face some opposition from some not-so surprising places. The Russian Federation and China pushed for amendments that would have removed references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with support from democracies including South Africa, Indonesia and India.
At least now, when any country tries to shut down the access to the internet in general or specific social media sites, they’re doing it knowing that the rest of the world objects and it is violating citizens’ human rights.
[Image by sanjitbakshi | Flickr]
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