The UN last week passed a resolution on “The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.” The resolution reaffirms the human rights and fundamental freedoms already enshrined in existing UN instruments, and goes on to affirm that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression.” The resolution invokes the great words of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supporting freedom of information “regardless of frontiers.” It also recognizes the “global and open nature of the internet” as something that “accelerates progress towards development in its various forms.”
But wait – isn’t this the United Nations, the same intergovernmental entity that, according to some, is putting the Internet in grave danger through its revision of the International Telecommunication Regulations? So, forgive me for being confused now. Is the UN out to take over the Internet and curtail its freedom (the WCIT story) or has the UN just explicitly confirmed that the Internet should be free (the UN HCR story)? To compound the confusion, Russia and China, the bad guys in the WCIT story, are said to have supported the resolution supporting human rights on the Internet.
To add to the fun, many of the people hailing the passage of the UN resolution as a great victory are the same people who were wringing their hands about the horrible threat posed by the mere possibility of a revision of the ITRs. I guess it is perfectly logical for them to do so. People who believe that the ITU had tremendous powers to undo the Internet must also believe that a UN General Assembly resolution can actually promote, protect and secure human rights on the Internet. So we will be looking for a major change of attitude in the press and among all those warning us that WCIT poses one of the gravest threats to the Internet ever. Those folks should now be ecstatic. Online freedom of expression has been guaranteed – a UN agency has passed a resolution with a bunch of words saying so. It’s all settled now, isn’t it?