1. Digital access and net neutrality needed
2. Censorship and surveillance: No excuse for states and private actors to breach human rights
3. Freedom of expression must be preserved by states and private sector
A majority of the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council are non-democratic. Obviously, this is a problem – if we presume human rights to have anything to do with fundamental democratic principles such as free speech, a free press and free and fair elections.
With countries such as China, Cuba, Iraq and Saudi Arabia in the council – one must also doubt what it will and can do when it comes to the right to fair trials, the issue of cruel and unusual punishments and the death penalty.
A Human Rights Council that is not committed to democracy and human rights is a travesty, a mockery of the UN:s own declaration of human rights.
The Council members are appointed by the UN General Assembly. So, obviously, not even the UN:s central body can be trusted when it comes to human rights issues. Sorry to say, I am not surprised.
The UN is morally corrupt.
Wall Street Journal: An Internet Giveaway to the U.N. »
I stand with Julian Assange. But I think his case took a turn for the worse this week.
First, to recapitulate: Julian Assange has not been charged with any crime in Sweden. This ridiculous situation is the result of a Swedish prosecutor refusing to interview him about alleged sexual misconduct, in a case that is very thin. Assange has reasons to fear that Sweden might surrender him to the US, where a Grand Jury is preparing his case. Sweden has handed over people to the CIA without prior judicial process on an earlier occasion. And the Wikileaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The situation for Julian Assange looks very much like that of a political dissident kept under house arrest.
Article 9 in The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
This declaration has been signed by Sweden as well as the United Kingdom. Now a UN panel under the Human Rights Commissioner has ruled that the way Assange is treated is in breach of this central principle. It is the same panel that e.g. took on the case of Aung San Suu Kyi. Usually, these rulings are held in high. But this time, the shoe seems to be on the other foot. Clearly the UK and Sweden only honor the UN panel when they are not the culprits.
Never the less, this has been lost on most people. It’s all too complicated and sublime.
The British and Swedish governments, on the other hand, only had to deliver simple one-liners. The UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond brands the UN panel’s ruling “ridiculous”. The Swedish government’s line is that this will not change anything.
Also, some media has deemed the UN approach as nonsensical. Remember, it’s simply not enough to be right — if this cannot be communicated in a way that makes an impact.
In practice, very little has changed. And the case against Assange will stay open until August 2020.
Somehow, I have a feeling that the UK, Sweden and the US feel rather content having Julian Assange in limbo at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. There his actions will be limited. And with an open investigation on alleged sex crimes, his reputation will stay tarnished. All of this having a negative impact on Wikileaks possibilities to expose wrongdoings and the dirty little secrets of the power elites.
That is exactly why the UN panel’s report is relevant.
The United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development just made some controversial and disputable recommendations. They want social networks and platforms to police the Internet and to be “proactive” against harassment and violence against women and girls. Only web platforms doing so should be licensed.
Washington Post reports…
“The respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center,” the report reads, not only for those “producing and providing the content,” but also everyone with any role in shaping the “technical backbone and enabling environment of our digital society.”
How that would actually work, we don’t know; the report is light on concrete, actionable policy. But it repeatedly suggests both that social networks need to opt-in to stronger anti-harassment regimes and that governments need to enforce them proactively.
At one point toward the end of the paper, the U.N. panel concludes that “political and governmental bodies need to use their licensing prerogative” to better protect human and women’s rights, only granting licenses to “those Telecoms and search engines” that “supervise content and its dissemination.”
This is bad, in so many ways.
It is a well-established principle that internet service providers and social networks are not responsible for what their users do. (Mere conduit.) Now, the UN Broadband Commission wants to throw that principle out the window. Meaning that concerned parties will have to monitor everything every user do — to be able to police the net in line with the commissions recommendations.
Then there is the idea of licensing social networks. This is a terrible idea, unacceptable in a democratic society. Period.
And knowing the modus operandi of the UN — you cannot rule out that this report is being encouraged by UN member states with a general interest in limiting a free and open internet.
One might also question the principle that “the respect for and security of girls and women must at all times be front and center”. First of all, everyone deserves respect and security. Second, it is very dangerous to give different groups different rights, advantages or treatment. Everyone should have the same rights and be treated the same way by government.
A final reason to keep this door closed is that “respect” and “harassment” are relative terms. This is often in the eye of the beholder. There is a tendency in some circles to label all dissent as harassment. And then we have the “trigger warning” discussion, with countless examples of claims of annoyance and inconvenience used to limit freedom of speech.
Regardless of whether you think those are worthwhile ends, the implications are huge: It’s an attempt to transform the Web from a libertarian free-for-all to some kind of enforced social commons.
This UN report is ill thought out and dangerous for democracy.