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Internet governance must ensure access for everyone – UN expert

Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Farida Shaheed.
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Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Farida Shaheed.

Internet governance must ensure access for everyone – UN expert

As a powerful global information resource, the Internet must be accessible to everyone and measures to ensure this must be taken, a United Nations independent expert said today.

“Since the Internet is essentially a global resource, it is crucial that appropriate Internet governance supports the right of everyone to have access to and use information and communication technologies in self-determined and empowering ways,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, adding that a “human-rights based approach to the issue should always be adopted.”

Ms. Shaheed emphasized the importance of governance on this issue since the Internet has become a powerful medium through which individuals can exercise a wide range of human rights.

“The Internet has become a key element for the enjoyment and the promotion of human rights such as the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds regardless of frontiers; the right to share and enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications; the right to participate in cultural life and engage with others through inter-cultural dialogue; as well as the right to development,” she said.

Ms. Shaheed noted that the Internet can also play an important role promoting democratic participations, accountability, transparency and economic development, and this highlights the need to “maintain it as a global source for all to enjoy.”

In particular, she underscored that the Internet should not be divided into national spheres and it should be guarded against any monopolistic appropriation which could reduce the public spaces where social actors interact as equals.

“The principle of net neutrality, whereby all content is treated equally over the Internet, is a foundational principle of the Internet and should be upheld”, she said.

“The Internet started as a collegial enterprise of communication and sharing informed by the principles of equality, non-interference and non-hierarch,” she added. “Its architecture was constructed in a manner which ensured that the flow of content was independent of the carrier infrastructure, making it very difficult for anyone to control the flows on the Internet. It is essential that these basic elements that make Internet such a unique and important tool for communication are maintained.”

Ms. Shaheed’s remarks were made prior to a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, which will include discussions on policy issues regarding Internet governance.

Working in an unpaid capacity, independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.