{teaching} Bringing ‘old’ rights to a new era

From last week to this Wed

In the pre-course survey, many of you identified some key aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that directly seem to pertain to the media and comm tech. These were the most often mentioned:

  • Article 12 – Privacy
  • Article 19 – Freedom of expression
  • Article 27 – Right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production

In addition, in your last assignment, you were asked to advocate the role of the media & comm tech in the global governance and development discourse: SDGs. FYI: Here’s an interactive map to show the 17 proposed SDG goals (so far, narrowed down from all the proposals). And your W3 reading by UNESCO – a position paper – advocates an idea of Internet Universality for post-2015 Goals, a core philosophy of which is rights-based.

Again, seemingly a pretty straight-forward mission: to advocate that the media & comm tech should have a role in such global targets. (I’ll edit our position papers towards the end of the week and share them with you, for your comments.)

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is what could be viewed as a wonderful example of the power of digital technologies and communication in advocating freedom of expression — a 17 min. delight of a documentary on the artist, and culture jammer par excellence, Ai WeiWei:

Wait: not so simple

Yet, this week’s mission is to explore some complexities that the digital era brings. Rune will discuss surveillance and cyber-threads in more detail next week, but we will address the basics of the basic rights, and how the digital era complicates everything. W3 ‘Basic Primer’ for these discussions is a brief by the Open Society Foundations: How HRs are different in the digital age.

Your other core text for this week is by Prof. Giovanni Ziccardi of University of Milan, from his book Resistance, Liberation Technology and Human Rights in the Digital Age. Please read Chapter 4 (for now), in which he discusses the ways the complex relationship with digital communication and human rights manifests. Citing an expert group affiliated with the UN, he lists six key points as to why our digital era warrants special global consideration:

  1. importance of the Internet in the modern age : the Internet must be regarded as the greatest enabler for freedom of expression and other human rights since Gutenberg’s printing press;
  1. challenges and risks: the Internet poses, at the same time, challenges to the protection of human rights, perhaps most notably the right to privacy, as well as the legitimate interests and values of democracy;
  1. freedom, security, accessibility: ensuring a free, secure and accessible Internet has therefore emerged not only as a fundamental human rights challenge, but as the key to global economic development, prosperity and development of Internet itself;
  1. freedom of expression as a pivotal right in the digital age: common ground and starting point must be the reaffirmation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression and the need to protect this right from unlawful restrictions on the Internet: limitations of freedom on the Internet, including security-related measures, could only be acceptable if they complied with international human rights aw, including existing standards of proportionality, transparency and adherence to the rule of law;
  1. new forms of human rights issues and standards: it is important that existing human rights standards are upheld and strengthened, but the Internet also poses new challenges that need to be addressed on its own terms. Therefore, it is not sufficient to rely exclusively on existing norms, but there is need for clarification of the meaning and scope of human rights law in the Internet context;
  1. states responsibilities: states have committed to, and are responsible for, the protection of human rights and therefore have the responsibility to address these issues.

Yet another factor, highlighting the need for rethinking, is the recent emergence of different Bills of Rights, initiated by different advocacy organizations (see the chapter).

And, if we decide on global goals and standards, how do we measure and benchmark success? W3 reading (in Dropbox) by DW Akademie discusses that — and a contested question about the Sustainable Development Goals and measuring the possible goal of Freedom of Expression, is discussed here.

2 cases (choose one, or both)

This week it’s self-study on some thrilling debates on digital rights… while I edit your texts. So choose to explore one case of the following, or (if you have the time and energy), both of these cases. Just screen/listen/read related material & explore the controversy.

The questions you may want to ask yourself, while enjoying the screening/listening, is: What kind of ideologies/views/discourses are conflicting (beyond the obvious, the concrete)? What kind of democracy/media & the society/political /economic theories you know of might help in dissecting those ideologies…

Case #1: Freedom of Expression vs. the Right to Be Forgotten; the US vs. the EU

This heated debate took place a week ago and was audio broadcasted in the U.S. It tackles an old right (FoE) vs. a new right, now recognized by the EU:

Debating for right to be forgotten:
-U of Chicago Law Professor

-Former Google Exec
-Tech guru – Professor from Berkmann Center, Harvard

(And, if you yearn for more, a fun magazine article on Google and the Right to Be Forgotten, as well as a wonderfully compact but wise op-ed by an Oxford professor on the issue in The Guardian.)

Case #2: Freedom of Expression vs. Copyrights

This recent documentary explores a clash of cultures in understanding rights: That of mass media era of conglomerates and their intellectual property rights vs. that of era of platforms and the culture (the politics) of sharing. As the W3 reading material, the book Free Culture by Prof. Lawrence Lessig showcases, copyrights are a relatively recent phenomenon, and culturally determined (so no universal rights here either). But these clashes of cultures may have severe legal consequences… TPBAFK = The Pirate Bay Away From Keyboard.

(And, if you yearn for more, here’s a recent op-ed by one of the key PBers in Wired, after a key life moment of his. And, the story continues…)

… And that’s all for now. If you want to share your thoughts about your screening/listening experience, if you want to pose a question for all of us to consider, or… feel free to do so below or under the appropriate thread on our secret Facebook group. It would be great to hear your thoughts – but this week, not mandatory.

4 thoughts on “{teaching} Bringing ‘old’ rights to a new era

  1. Well, I thought the two cases were really important, so I investigated for the both. For the first one, regarding “the Right to be Forgotten”, I just want to state the difficulty of its application, meaning that, following the defender’s position, it would be needed a kind of “Web Court” that could declare if the case –or the information that surrounds it- really deserves to be vanished. But, what would be the legislative basis for the Court? What criteria should be followed?

    Another question that came to my mind was one more pragmatic: Is erasing a certain reference from Google a truly way to achieve “oblivion”? In other words, a real forgetfulness would only come when a specific information could entirely disappear from the Web.

    In this sense, comedian John Oliver has criticized the “workability” of the proposal. His point is really funny and it’s worth watching it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-ERajkMXw0

    For the second case, I want to quote the work of Jonathan Sterne, which studies the meaning of the mp3 format. Sterne argues that this format itself was conceived to be fully shared in order to achieve compatibility.

    In this sense, “the mp3 is designed for promiscuity” (Sterne, 2006. p.836). So, from a personal ‘irreverent’ reading, it could be said that Internet –considering that the mp3 is one of the commonly spread forms of the Web- is meant for piracy. Or maybe, we still don’t fully comprehend the Internet’s spectrum, remembering McLuhan’s concept of rearviewmirrorism.

    I think that this kind of discussions must be held when talking about copyrights. Do we fully understand the Web’s ontology?

    For me, the work of Jonathan Sterne can be a guide to this complex situation. The Sterne’s paper I am referring can be found in the link: http://sterneworks.org/mp3.pdf


  2. Thoughts around both cases: Economic sustainability – a controversial aspect

    Ziccardi (p. 126): “It is true, authoritative formulations, doctrinal developments and social understanding of human rights cannot provide us with a complete regulatory framework: economical and technological consideration must be taken into account[.]”

    During this course, we’ve been reading and talking about sustainability and sustainable development. As controversial as it might sound, also economic sustainability is one of the pillars that create sustainability. When reading and screening these materials, I started to think about the economic aspect of media, and how it sometimes collides with the freedom and privacy rights.

    Even though Internet has given us the possibility to freedom of expression, this might hinder the media business. For example, the film about Pirate Bay raised a question about copyrights, which are important from the aspect of getting paid of one’s work.

    Then again, the media business hinders the freedom of expression in a fundamental way, as Internet is not free to use. One needs the hardware and the network for accessing the digital world. In order to have these machines and connections, one needs money.

    The right to privacy is violated for instance when data is gathered from Internet users. The privacy online is very hard to maintain, especially when using regular browsers and programs – those that are sold by the biggest Internet companies. Is it against the right to privacy, when companies know your Google searches, which sites you visit, what are your interests? And how many of us really care anymore, because we are – no matter what – very dependent on the Internet use?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.