The Jakarta Post
Surveillance and spying on world leaders and the general public across the globe have crushed people's trust in the Internet and other high-tech equipment.
More importantly, these actions have infringed on human rights.
There was skepticism last week when the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee issued a resolution to protect the people's right to privacy against massive and unlawful surveillance.
Such resolutions are not legally binding, although they carry heavy political weight.
However, the resolution established ' for the first time ' that human rights should prevail regardless of medium and, therefore, needed to be protected online as well as offline.
Dina PoKempner, the general counsel of the Human Rights Watch, said that although the resolution was 'watered down,' it was still a 'vital first step toward stigmatizing indiscriminate global surveillance as a widescale violation of human rights'.
Questions on whether human rights were protected online were a hot topic of debate during the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Nusa Dua in Bali.
According to its website, the IGF has a critical role in the global Internet governance ecosystem. It provides a neutral and non-binding venue for discussions on important issues that can inform decisions on national and regional policies.
Speaking to The Jakarta Post at the forum, Thomas Gass, the UN assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and inter-agency affairs, said that the Internet had been misused for a variety of purposes.
'There is a danger that some world governments have been defensive in covering their Internet abuses, including the recent surveillance cases,' Gass, who was also co-chair of the IGF, said.
He said that all parties should cooperate to ensure that basic rights of privacy and freedom of expression were protected on the Internet, cautioning governments to be open-minded, as the Internet had given voice to new ideas and new ways of doing things.
'This is not an era where using the Internet is dangerous and threatening; that would be a pity for the international Internet community,' Gass said.
Markus Kummer, the vice president for public policy at the Geneva-based Internet Society, said on the sidelines of the IGF meeting that the Internet was fast-changing and transformational and also a disruptive technology.
'By using the Internet, it is technically feasible to do a mass scale of surveillance that no other technology can match,' Kummer said, adding that the revelations of US NAtional Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden had been bad for Internet technology, infrastructure and, more importantly, for Internet users around the globe.
'These shocking surveillance revelations really undermine Internet usage all over the world,' said Kummer, who was also the co-chairman of the IGF's preparatory meetings. 'They have made a huge tectonic impact on global political, economical and social landscapes. And it was also about human rights violations.'
The US, Kummer said, had lost trust and credibility in handling political, economic and human rights issues among its allies and foes alike. The revelations had created a situation where people are afraid to use the Internet, he added.
'This is not a healthy environment. The Internet is for everyone to use. It is not only a technology. It is here to help and to empower people,' Kummer said. 'The characteristics of the Internet are open, bottom-up interoperable and global in character. That needs to be preserved.'
He continued. 'The right to privacy in the digital world is a basic human right. When a country is dealing with a terrorism case, it does not constitute that because someone has an Arabic name, she or he deserves to be snooped around and to be suspected of being a terrorist. This is a really big problem in the cyber world.
'Human rights have come very strongly into the foreground. Digital content was on the agenda right from the beginning and that stays with us.
Meanwhile, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Daniel A. Sepulveda, who heads the department's Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, spoke of a need for coordination.
Governments were not big players in the Internet, as opposed to the traditional telecom world, and did not have years of technical and economic capacity to manage the space on their own.
'Politicians cannot solve the problems without knowing whether they work from a technological point of view,' Sepulvuda said. 'At the same time, technologists cannot solve the problems if politicians do not tell them what the problem is that they are supposed to solve.'
Separately, Ross LaJeunesse of Google spoke of the importance of end-user relationships. 'If our users do not trust us, they won't use our products, and they will go somewhere else.' Part of maintaining trust, he said, was in 'not providing any direct access for any government in the world to our data, our servers, and our infrastructures and not to accept 'large, blanket-like governments' requests for user data'.
He urged Internet users to hold governments accountable, including in cases 'where journalists are beaten, bloggers are imprisoned and activists are killed'.
Around 2.7 billion people across the world, or 40 percent of the world's population, and 16 percent of the Asian population, are online today.
There is a long way to go to ensuring that the rights of Internet users to privacy and protection are preserved.
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