Monday, January 9, 2012

Vint Cerf, internet and Human Rights

I bet the first names any IT specialist had heard in his professional life has been the names of Bob Khan and Vint Cerf, and it is not unfounded. Both are sharing the title of “the fathers of internet” and their contributions have been acknowledged and lauded with honorary degrees and awards.
So, every time when you have a seat in front of your computer to tweet, write a post in a blog - like this one – or just check some video out in YOUTUBE, you are in doubt with the talent and the cleverness of those two men.
I am bringing the name of both, but especially, the name of Vint Cerf because, lately, he had stirred some controversy throughout internet when declare, in The New York Times that internet is not a Human Right.
In his New York’s article, Vint Cerf wrote:
“In June... a report by United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.”
And later added:
“But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself”
Cerf then tried to explain in details his reasons summoning how long time ago if you didn’t have a horse you barely make a living, and how the right thing to be consider as a Human Rights is “the right to make a living”, not the right to own a horse. It is pretty much his reasoning.
He also argues that internet should be considered instead a Civil Right, because:
“Civil rights, after all, are different from human rights because they are conferred upon us by law, not intrinsic to us as human beings”
It is reasoning with its highs and its lows, I have to concede. What we can agree with Vint Cerf is the fact that technology changes with time and what could be found today, maybe in a decade could be vanished, especially in the IT world. Let’s agree with that.
But the point is when that “horse was almost a necessity to make a living” the human kind almost didn’t have any rights beyond slavery and misery. There wasn’t any International Organization who recognised any Human Rights, and the land Lords considered their subjects very close to that mentioned horse needed to make a living, if not with less rights.
Time changes and with time society and its laws change too. International laws should be modified to fulfill new times and requests. And technology is one of them.
I think Vint Cerf lost the point at the very moment he claims that internet is closer to a Civil Right rather than a Human Right. Especially when he says:
“When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.”
But that is the point. The problem in our modern society is that tyrannical government remove any access to information banning the basic accesses to internet, which is the modern technology to fulfil one of the basic Human Rights established by theUnited Nations in its article 19, and I quoting:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
What Vint Cerf is arguing it is one of the most important aspects of the report written by Frank LaRue whe he says:
“...remains concerned that legitimate online expression is being criminalized in contravention of States’ international human rights obligations, whether it is through the application of existing criminal laws to online expression, or through the creation of new specifically designed to criminalize expression on the Internet.”
I will add something that it is very up to day in my native country, Cuba: even when there is almost no law written but orders from the high rank officials verbally expressed but never put in legislation, which it is typical of tyrannies like the long hold it by Castro.
I think, Frank La Rue is very clever when he says:
“Such platforms [internet] are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information.”
It is very important in countries with propaganda system pounding about the goodness of their implementation of some human rights, and forgetting the importance of implementing all the Civil Rights like the right to vote in a democratic election, many times deferred or denied by some reasons of “National Security and Independence”. It is a language we, as Cubans, had heard many times from Fidel Castro’s own speeches, publicly.
I usually had clashed with intellectuals, as especially technical discussions because going so high and so elevated in spirit and soul, they forget the most important: laws are made by Humans, not by machines and, unfortunately, governments who had declare the right to dissent a crime always had tried to confuse those technical issues in the center of their denials in public places, international organizations like United Nations and even in public speeches in order to cut any international legislation condemning their predatory practices.
Cuba is one of them.
So, I get the last part of Vint Cerf article and, with his generous contribution - I HOPE – I will change:
“Improving the Internet... must be done with appreciation for the civil and human rights that desserve protection” ... pretending that access itself is such a right [I removed the word without with all my respect for Cerf]