International Human Rights Law and the Internet

September 28, 2012 • Blogs, Online Content, The World at Yale • Views: 1113

by Kristen Chapman

“People haven’t been paying as much attention as they should to the human rights consequences of technology,” explained Molly Land, as she sank into a dignified armchair in the Yale Law School Faculty Lounge late Thursday afternoon. Associate Professor at New York Law School, Professor Land was visiting Yale to discuss her recent work, Toward an International Law of the Internet, as part of a law school workshop series focused on Human Rights.

Professor Molly Lands speaks at Yale Law School. (Kristen Chapman/TYG)

The audience—some twenty odd students, professors, and fellows—was captivated by Molly Land’s presentation on the relationship between the internet and the 1950 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This relationship, Professor Land acknowledged, is especially relevant in light of recent UN discussions on cyber security and explosive Youtube videos. She also noted that despite the current prevalence of the internet in international affairs, “there is relatively little attention being paid to the law of freedom of information.”

 

Delving into her publication, Professor Land emphasized the frequency with which private entities and governments commit human rights violations by restricting internet content and accessibility.

 

The basis of Land’s work relies on her insistence that although the internet did not exist when ICCPR was drafted in 1950, it should be still be the basis for determining legality of internet regulations. She explained, “The drafters seemed to have intended the treaty to be interpreted in light of the current situation and technological developments.”

Following this conclusion, Land proceeded to list the five means through which human rights are often violated when internet access and content is restricted. They included access to the internet, anonymity of posts, discrimination of access, nationalization of cyber zones, and private action taken to censor content.

After identifying these five human rights violations under Article 19 of the ICCPR, Professor Land established a key solution to several of these problems. She concluded, “Anonymity is crucial.” Because internet codes protect privacy, attention must be paid to technological choices as much as written laws regarding these rights.” She warned, “The amount of tracking that goes on is much more than you might be aware of.” Therefore, if the government is choosing between two different internet codes, Land insists, “they need to choose the one that most protects human rights.”

Kristen Chapman is senior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at kristen.chapman@yale.edu.

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