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Internet Governance and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Part 4: Article 13-15

Articles 13-15: Political Rights (I), Co-authored by Klaus Stoll and Prof Sam Lanfranco. [1]

This is Part 4 of a series of articles published (here in CircleID) on the UDHR and human rights in the cyberspaces of the Internet Ecosystem. [2] Here we discuss Articles 13-15 and touch on other topics such as the role of cyber governance, empowered digital citizenship, and whistleblowers. [3] At this point in this series of articles on the UDHR in the digital age, it is useful to pause and remind ourselves of the purpose of this analysis. The exponential growth of digital cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem has both opened new exciting virtual territories for human activity and has disrupted many elements of society’s existing (literal) human social order. At the same time, it has produced major tears in society’s social fabric and posed challenges to the underlying social contract. [4] In this series of articles we try to do several things.

First, we looked at the UDHR and its underlying principles to see what guidance the UDHR might give to define, or at least point the way, to formulating the principles and policies that support the rights and duties of digital citizenship. For some aspects, the guidance around protected rights is straightforward. Other areas are unique to the global span of the Internet ecosystem and demand fresh thinking and fresh approaches.

Second, our intention is to explore possible mechanisms for pursuing possible ways forward. There may be neither a unique path nor a unique arrangement of mechanisms. There is, however, a unique starting point—one enabled by the scope of the Internet ecosystem. That starting point, aspirational at this point, begins with engaged digital stakeholders, with the broader goal of promoting engaged digital citizenship. With all its pitfalls and its uses by those wishing to attack democracy and democratic processes, the Internet ecosystem offers a venue for democratic multistakeholder engagement in policy and decision-making processes that was heretofore unimaginable. Internet governance for stakeholder engagement will likely include some blend of national, international, and multilateral structures and processes. It should be formulated using a multistakeholder process.

The Internet ecosystem has changed reality in ways more profound than the changes from the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th Century to the early 20th Century. Those changes were not recognized at the end of WWI when the Treaty of Versailles imposed peace conditions that contributed to almost half a century of terrible consequences. [5] While the principles contained in the UDHR may be robust and durable, the context has changed dramatically, as has the speed of change.

This calls for an ecosystem approach and not a “whack-a-mole” symptomatic approach to issues surrounding the rights and duties of one’s presence and residency in the Internet ecosystem. It calls for an engaged stakeholder approach that combines progress in governance and regulations with the rebuild of appropriate social fabric and social contract.

Finally, these series of articles are meant to contribute to the upcoming 75th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and prompt an Internet ecosystem-wide discussion around digital rights and Internet ecosystem policy development. [6] The goal is to kickstart progress toward a much-needed International Covenant on digital Civil and Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Historical Context

The UDHR was drafted in an important historical period. It was written during the time of the persecution and the mass migration European Jews, the refusal of the world’s nations to grant migrants asylum, British limitations on Jewish immigration to Palestine, civil war between factions in Palestine, the resulting two-state solution proposed by the UN in 1947, and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. [7] The question now is what do the Articles mean at this moment in time, as persons and other entities (communities, companies, governments) take up residence (migrate) to the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem. Residence within the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem is simultaneous to maintaining residence within nation-states. We cannot simply translate the UDHR into cyberspace. On the other hand, there is no need to redraft them for the digital age, as our fundamental human rights remain the same, and the challenge is how to apply them in a new context. We must start from the principles behind the UDHR and use them as navigational aids. We should look to the UDHR to help us understand our rights and obligations in cyberspace and how to build respect for the digital dignity and rights of others. We must also examine what needs to be codified into formal covenants with regard to rights and duties in cyberspace, and what needs to become part of the social fabric and underlying social contract.

Article 13: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Article 13: (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Central to any discussion of Articles 13-15 regarding rights and duties is to revisit the notions of nation and state, as they related to the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem, a subject previously discussed in Part 1 of this series. [8] Article 13: (1) is set within the framework of statehood, whilst Article 13: (2) is set within the notion of country.

Cyberstate Basics

Within cyberspace, we are living in technological and social constructs and virtual territories. These were initially the web sites we visit and the social platforms (email, social media) we use. Increasingly, they now include the growing universe of the Internet of Things (IoT) with its immense tracking and data archiving. Each of those online spaces could be compared to nations in terms of their process and data control. Many digital tech companies and their high-level representatives act in their relationship with states as if they are nations in their own right [9]. Like nations in the real world, digital territories are influenced and defined by political, economic, geographic, ethnic, religious, language factors. What are, or should be, our rights and obligations as digital citizens within the digital territories of cyberspace?

Our digital residence in the cyberspaces of the global Internet ecosystem stands in marked contrast to our digital residence where we reside. Governments have sovereignty and authority over the domestic cyberstate. Persons and entities have a state defined digital citizenship and residency. They also now have a nation-like digital residence in the global Internet ecosystem. However, cyberstate governance, commonly called “Internet Governance” (IG) is in its infancy at both levels, in terms of what it is and what it covers.

Approaches to sovereignty in Cyberspace go back as far as 1996 when John Perry Barlow published his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”. [10] “We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.”

The current state of Internet governance, in its infancy, has not reached the status of a cyberstate with defined mechanisms of cyber-governance. As well, the Internet has disrupted the behavioral norms of the prevailing social constructs of the late 20th Century, resulted in major tears in society’s social fabric and damage to the underlying social contract. Repairing the social fabric, and agreeing upon a new social contract base, is an essential complement to the development of both digital governance and digital citizenship. This is a pressing priority of the moment.

A just state is built by the political will and engagement of its citizens. To construct the layers of the cyberstate, from local to global, will require shared aspirational goals and vision across stakeholders. The steps needed to create a system of digital governance within a country’s cyberstate are rooted in the state’s Constitution and associated institutions for policy development, and their implementation in the literal world. That work is challenging and will benefit from starting with the principles underpinning the UDHR.

The power and legitimacy of the cyber governance stem from the recognition of a state’s sovereignty and its right to govern domestic cyberspace. [11] Within one’s country citizenship, national digital citizenship comes under the governance of that domestic cyberspace. At the same time persons and entities have a global residence in cyberspace, and may have local residences in other countries. [12] This raises the issue of digital migration, and one’s ability to change digital residence across states and governments, at will. At the same time, this leaves open our understanding of what digital citizenship means at the global level. ICANN, responsible for the security and stability of the global Internet, has a motto that states: “One World, One Internet.” What that means in terms of global digital citizenship, domestic digital citizenship, and cyberstate governance is yet to be worked out. Ideally, this will be determined, consistent with and with help from, the principles in the UDHR.

Cyberspace Residence Requires Empowered Digital Citizenship

Article 13: (1) gives everyone the right to freedom of movement and residence, within the borders of a state. Residence and citizenship are not necessarily the same so Article 13 does not address rights and duties regarding citizenship. Residency in cyberspace operates both within the nation state, and globally outside the nation state. [13] Ideally, there should be only one set of cyberstate policies and regulations, one digital citizenship for all. However, nation-states can and do distinguish between residence and citizenship. They may have different policies for each, policies that also differ from those of other nation-states. At the global level, that is not the case. In global cyberspace everyone is a global resident and, by extension, a global citizen. There is no way to differentiate between the two. There is no way to acknowledge global residency but deny global citizenship.

States are in the process of building their policies and regulations for national cyberspace, and for the rights and duties of national citizens and residents, virtual or literal, in national cyberspaces. This was the motive behind Facebook moving its user files out of Ireland at the start of the GDPR. Subscribers remained residents of the Internet ecosystem but no longer held that residency in Ireland.

We have now entered a period of cyberspace governance building. As countries and regions act, there is a high degree of consultation and some collaboration. Hopefully, they will be guided by principles like those in the UDHR, and policies of good governance will prevail. In Part 1 of this series, we stated: “Today, cyberspace bestows on each of us a dual, but inseparable, physical and digital citizenship. Even if we don’t know about cyberspace or are unable or have decided not to use any of the digital technologies, we are still digital citizens with rights (and corresponding duties)”. Access to cyberspace becomes a human right, that indirectly is enshrined in the fundamental human rights of the UDHR.

At the level of the global Internet ecosystem, the issue of global digital citizenship is more complicated on one front and easier on another. The explosive expansion of the Internet has made everyone a de facto resident and global citizen in cyberspace. The rights and obligations of global digital citizenship are yet to be defined. In addition to the key issue of what rights and obligations should accompany that citizenship, it is the key issue of who should be involved in formulating those rights and obligations.

This is where the UDHR comes in two ways. The principles in the UDHR constitute the key principles that should be enshrined in a declaration of digital rights, or more properly, the rights of global digital citizenship. Secondly, any structures of global governance are likely to be enshrined in international or multilateral treaty agreements. They are unlikely to come from some sort of overarching cyberstate. [14] It is essential for the governance of cyberspace that policymaking and enforcement tools are in place that ensure global digital citizens are empowered in the policy-making processes, are never deprived of their full rights (and duties) citizenship and enjoy a safe and secure residence in the cyberspaces of the Internet.

To delineate between national digital citizenship and citizenship within the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem, we use the term digital citizenship for the former and global digital citizenship for the later. In both cases, effective democracy calls for engaged citizenship, engaged digital citizenship and engaged global digital citizenship. Here our focus is on stakeholder engaged global digital citizenship.

There are state and private sector initiatives under to create ring-fences around sections of cyberspace. [15] Creating isolated cyberspaces runs against the very nature and strengths of cyberspace. Such efforts are to be resisted in that they devalue the very strengths of the Internet ecosystem as a tool for human understanding and human development. Such ring-fenced spaces would diminish global digital citizenship, establishing second-class digital citizenship that lacked access to one’s rights as a global digital citizen.

Opting Out: A Conundrum

Article 13: (2) refers to the right to leave any country, including one’s own, and to return to that country. At one level, this presents a simple issue. With the advances in government (services, etc.) and e-governance, it is easier for citizens to engage their governments and engage in governance. It also means that those without adequate digital access have diminished citizenship. This underscores the need to treat digital access as a public good and not just another private consumable. However, it is virtually impossible to become “non-resident” in a national cyberspace. Even when physically leaving a country, one is liable to remain subject to that country’s digital citizenship rights and duties, even in exile. There are many examples that show how difficult, or even impossible, it is for many to erase their digital footprints.

Residence in cyberspace is, of course, completely composed of data, data tagged with personal identifiers. Such data goes well beyond personal data input into the data cloud by deliberate transactional actions. It includes data collected from one’s behavior, as one browses and roams around the Internet. More importantly, increasingly, it also includes ambient data from one’s simple presence in life. Ambient data is data from cell phones, automobiles, the Internet of Things (IoT), third-party surveillance, and a myriad of other sources. Such data, personal or not, is broadly tagged with identifiers and used to construct profiles. It is increasingly used in “black box” artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to construct digital personas, used for marketing, monitoring, and a broad myriad of other uses. [16] While Article 13: (2) speaks about a right to leave, in cyberspace there is nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Being a digital resident comes with the fact of being alive, with residency possibly both after death and before birth. [17] One’s final wish may be to maintain digital residency forever. [18] This makes protected access to the proper rights and duties of digital citizenship all that more important.

Digital Asylum: Rights, Obligations and Duties

Article 14: (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

Article 14: (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Cyberspace, by its nature, is a network of networks based on common technical standards that operate at the technical level independent of any ethical standards. With many different policies, rules of conduct and culture practices, what might be permissible in one context, may be unacceptable or the cause for persecution in another. What is considered normal and healthy in an open society may be subject to censure or punishment under a repressive regime.

The right to freedom of digital asylum may be complicated and needs exploration. If within one’s digital residency one has been persecuted or prevented access, digital migration still leaves the literal person open to persecution. [19] For digital asylum to have meaning, it might have to be accompanied by physical migration.

Issues arise here. Can there be a digital asylum with some protections? Can digital crimes abroad be subject to the territorial jurisdiction of one’s physical residence? [20] If a digital persona is persecuted in a digital space by entities that exert political power over that space, or if there is an inability of political powers to protect that digital person, what rights are relevant here? What does “a right to leave” mean? [21] How does a right to asylum assure a right to protection? If there is a duty in digital spaces to grant asylum what does that mean?

Also, foreign digital residency can be like dual citizenship and exist for purposes other than asylum. Digital residency may be the presence of a persona within a country despite the person not having literal citizenship. [22] What rights does the digital asylum resident have within the literal rights and duties of the host country?

While in principle the extension of a right of asylum to digital/cyber residents should exist, there is much work to be done to understand what needs to go into the rights and obligations/duties of digital residency, digital citizenship and digital asylum.

Asylum and Migration: Political Crimes and Contrary Acts

Article 14: (2) restricts the application of claims to asylum to situations where the claim is not based on a political crime or acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the UN. However, it is not easy to define what constitutes a political crime. The definition is influenced by both the context and the point of view of the beholder, whether the beholder is persons or institutions:

“...a political crime or political offence is an offence involving overt acts or omissions (where there is a duty to act), which prejudice the interests of the state, its government, or the political system. It is to be distinguished from state crime, in which it is the states that break both their own criminal laws or public international law.” [23] States may define political crimes as any behavior perceived as a threat, real or imagined, to the state’s survival, including both violent and non-violent oppositional crimes. Such criminalization may curtail a range of human rights, civil rights, freedoms. Under such regimes conduct which would not normally be considered criminal per se is criminalized at the convenience of the group holding power. [24] Political crimes in the context of the UDHR are considered an abuse of human rights. Asylum is the mechanism that protects human rights against arbitrary state power, be it driven by political, economic, religious or other forces. Extending this notion to the protection to one’s digital residency and citizenship is one of the challenges on the global Internet policy and governance agenda.

The purposes and principle of the UN are stated in the first two chapters of the UN charter. [25] It identifies “members”, “people” and “peace-loving states” that promote and encourage respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion. Peoples and states are addressed here, but the ultimate focus is on the rights of the people. As in the case of political crimes and the work of the UN itself, the yardstick to measure and evaluate behavior is the UDHR. Any acts contrary to human rights are acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. These protections need to be extended to digital personas and residency in the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem.

Whistleblowers and the Need for Protections:

Digital whistleblowers are an example of an area that needs further analysis and an exploration as we flesh out the rights, duties and protections regarding the integrity of digital activities. At the other end of the spectrum purveyors of miss information, “false news” and malicious information also require attention and accountability for their actions. [26] This is a complicated and muddy area so we will dwell on several recent incidents [27].

Many states view the publication of classified, or unclassified but embarrassing information, increasingly from digital sources, as not a political crime, but as a criminal activity that does not deserve the protection of Article 14: 1. [28] When it comes to whistleblowers in the context of cyberspace names such as Snowden, Assange, and Manning come to mind. [29] The question is if their whistleblowing deeds are deserving protection and literal asylum, or are nonpolitical crimes that are not subject to human rights protection.

Snowden describes his motivation clearly:

“...My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” [30] Snowden qualifies that, saying that the disclosure of information must be justified and serve a public interest.” [31] In contrast the US Government argued that the major portion of the content:

“... had nothing to do with exposing government oversight of domestic activities. The vast majority of those were related to our military capabilities, operations, tactics, techniques and procedures”. [32] In 2013, Snowden was partially vindicated when a U.S. federal judge ruled the collection of U.S. phone metadata by the NSA was likely unconstitutional.

Assange and Wikileaks didn’t impose criteria on which documents to publish. They publish available data from what they perceive as “powers” and let the rest of the world decide. They view Wikileaks acting as a “dropbox” to ensure that journalists and whistleblowers are not prosecuted for disclosing sensitive or classified documents. According to WikiLeaks, its goal is:

“to bring important news and information to the public ... One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth.” [33] This is complicated legal terrain at the national level, and more so at the global level. It crosses both national boundaries and the boundaries between the digital and the literal. It illustrates the need for engaged dialogue among the various stakeholders ranging from engaged literal and digital stakeholders to lawmakers and judicial systems, a dialogue that must precede any rush to legislation and regulations, both at the national and the global (international/multilateral?) level.

Digital Residency and the Rights and Obligations of Digital Citizenship

Article 15: (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

The advent of digital technologies has created an important new reality, the scope for a digital residence in the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem. Consider digital residency and how the issues raised relate back to the UDHR. For starters, digital technologies are a double-edged sword. [34] Practically every trace of one’s presence in cyberspace is uniquely tagged to one’s literal persona. One’s virtual identity and the AI assisted multiple digital personas constructed by others facilitate one’s integration into new virtual and literal contexts in ways that one may not approve or wish for. They provide unique identifiers to others well beyond our contemporary notions of privacy and personal security. [35] Nationality, as a citizen or resident of a state, is an important foundational concept of the UDHR [36]. It defines the legal relationship of a person to the state, giving the state jurisdiction over the person. In turn, the person enjoys rights and duties protection from the state. The protection of rights and duties and the honoring of those by both the citizen/resident and the state within the realm of in one’s digital residency in cyberspace is an area calling for multistakeholder dialogue to explore the issues and multistakeholder engagement in policy development.

Article 15: (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

The world is again in the middle of a great migration. From 1850 to 1950 one hundred million people migrated, mainly from Europe to colonial areas and areas of sparse population. [37] We are on the cusp of another great migration. Social unrest and climate change have resulted in 70 million forcibly displaced persons, many of those with little prospect of “going home” in any meaningful way. [38] Migration results from both push factors and pull factors. While most existing migrants have been “pushed” by political unrest, estimates suggest that hundreds of millions more will be “pushed” by climate change in the next 20-30 years. [39] Article 15 was crafted after the terrible events of WWII. Refugees fleeing persecution and economic hardship faced some hostile reception but found welcoming destinations in other parts of the world. Increasingly migrants are “displaced persons” stuck in an indeterminate existence in slums and refugee camps, with nowhere to go. They may retain literal nationality or have become effectively stateless. Deprived of the rights of their prior literal nationality, they have little hope of changing literal residency or nationality.

Is there any scope for ameliorating this situation through the extension of digital citizenship? There is much ongoing work around assigning digital Identification documentation to refugees for the management of immediate services. Many have been displaced with no personal documentation and are effectively stateless persons. Within the refugee process, a digital identity can compensate for lack of proof, but it cannot restore the ability to exercise the rights and obligations one’s literal identity and leave open the question of what good is a digital identity in the absence of a literal identity?

This leaves open the question of whether there is any scope for ameliorating these personal situations through the extension and application of digital citizenship. The short answer is that nobody knows. That depends on how the world treats the creation of the rights and duties of digital citizenship, and in the absence of rights of literal residency, this is another area to be explored.

There is a bit more to explore regarding UDHR Articles 15.1 and 15.2 that will be handled in the next article in this CircleID series, along with an exploration of UDHR Article: 16 and Article: 17.

What is clear thus far is that the UNDH can and should serve as the North Star/Southern Cross navigational aid for the construction of both an understanding of how we should approach the rights and duties of digital citizenship, in particular global digital citizenship, and how we need multistakeholder dialogue around how to handle those rights and duties challenges that are unique to the digital cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem.

We also reiterate our position that there is neither a one-size-fits-all template for developing our understanding and approach to digital citizenship. There is a need for multistakeholder engagement, both to identify the best path forward and to get stakeholder buy-in to both the path taken and the mechanisms chosen.

The path forward cannot be completely regulatory and will require attention to restoring society’s social fabric, with possibly different repairs in different settings, and rebuilding the underlying social contract to embrace human activities across both of our digital and literal human realities.

Beyond that, and beyond how these tasks are handled at the national level in individual nation-states, there will need to be some blend of international and multilateral action to move forward. This progress, while enlightened by historical perspective and expertise, will have to come from multistakeholder engagement that has been enabled by the digital cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem. Trying to circumvent, or short circuit, that route will result in delay and the risk of failure.

In the next section, we explore further issues of digital presence and data ownership in the digital cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem, and how decisions in those areas impact on how we handle the rights and duties of digital citizenship, in the quest for digital and literal future with promise.

[1] The authors contributed this article solely in their personal capacity, to promote discussion around the UDHR, digital rights and digital citizenship. The authors can be reached at


. The authors would also like to thank Sarah Deutsch for her valuable contributions to the article.

[2] Part 1, 2, 3 are available here:

[3] This series of article are presented a bit like preparing the foundation for a house, here the house is the “house of regulations and rights” in the digital age. An understanding of the desired digital rights, and the pitfalls from policy and regulation, is required to build a sturdy and relevant platform of digital rights.

[4] A long list of examples could be given here, ranging from issues of personal privacy and security, to disruptive disintermediation in business, and social process, to the toxic effects of false news on elections, governance and trust.

[5] . See: The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written by the British economist John Maynard Keynes and published in 1919. His call for multilateral policies was ignored after WWI. He was instrumental in the growth of multilateralism after WWII.

[6] Comments are welcomed. Send comments with “UDHR” in the subject line to [email protected] . Comments will be used to update this digital rights discussion in subsequent articles.

[7] After World War II the drafters of the UDHR faced a historical situation of immense complexity. British rule of Palestine, confirmed by the League of Nations, took effect in 1923. To escape persecution in Europe, Jewish immigration to Palestine took place in waves, resulting in Palestinian and Arab rioting in 1920 and 1921. The British imposed immigration quotas for Jews. The US Immigration Act of 1924 barred Jewish immigration to the United States. Persecution in Poland and Hungary left those Jewish communities with few migration options. By 1938 several hundred thousand Jews had migrated to Palestine. Between 1939 and 1945 Nazi atrocities caused the deaths of approximately 6 million Jews and at the war’s end illegal migration accelerated. The British turned to the UN for help and the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) proposed “an independent Arab State” and “an independent Jewish State”. The resolution was adopted by the UN in 1947 and followed by inaction. David Ben-Gurion proclaiming Israeli independence in 1948. It is within this context that the drafters of the UDHR drafted Articles 13-15.

[8] For Country, Nation and State: A country is commonly understood as a defined and recognized geographic territory inside which people live according to a legally binding sets of rules that are set by its own governance processes. The term nation often refers to a country, but not always. A nation may exist within or across geographic boundaries. It may be defined as a community of people based on political, economic, geographic, ethnic, religious, and other factors. The important difference between a country and a nation is that a nation may not have sovereignty or governing power, nor clearly delineated geographic boundaries. A state, by contrast, is an entity with governing power and sovereignty over a geographic area.

[9] Tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google have behaved in part as though they are their own global digital nations, some (Amazon) even appropriating the names of territories, reflecting their intentions to operate at a global scale and, in the absence of global Internet ecosystem governance, act as digital nations answerable only to themselves.

[10] See: John Perry Barlow “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, https://www.eff.org/cyberspace-independence. (Ironically Barlow made his declaration in Davos where the WEF meets annually and is busy trying to shape its own capitalist Cyberstate). At the same time Nexusweb declared its Independence as the first virtual country in Cyberspace and published its own Declaration of Independence, see: https://web.archive.org/web/19970102014217/http://www.inter-nexus.com/nexusweb/declare1.html

For further discussion on the topic of “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Declaration_of_the…

[11] There is scope for some extraterritorial application here. In the area of child abuse, for example, countries can and do prosecute citizens for sex crimes against children whether they are perpetrated at home or abroad.

[12] For example, when the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018 Facebook moved millions of accounts out of Ireland to remove them from GDPR regulation.

[13] This is a bit like one’s rights on the high seas. Some of those rights have been enshrined in multilateral “law of the sea” agreements, some rights are protected by one’s national citizenship and the protective efforts of the relevant nation states, and for some rights there is no legal protection at all. For example, in the case of rescue efforts when pirates hijack ships at sea, it is often difficult to determine which rights apply and which do not.

[14] While some might wish for a one world government approach that respects and enforces global digital citizenship, it is unrealistic to believe that nation states would give up sovereignty for the creation of a global digital governance structure. The short run path forward is more likely to be international and multinational.

[15] For example see: “Russia Says It Has Successfully Tested a Country-Wide Alternative to the Global Internet”, http://www.circleid.com/posts/20191227_russia_has_tested_country_wide…

[16] The area of AI-enhanced facial recognition software is a case in point here. China is using it to monitor human behavior and keep a “social credit” score card on individuals. Multiple commercial entities are compiling scorecard ratings (credit, insurance, health, driving) using digital business practice and data gathering techniques that raise serious legal and human rights (privacy) questions.

[17] See: https://iapp.org/news/a/pregnancy-tracking-app-drawing-privacy-scrutiny/ and see:


[18] See the digital mausoleum in https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=black+mirror+san+junipero

[19] There are ongoing issues here. How much privacy should prevail around domain name ownership? Anonymous ownership can hide criminals, predatory behavior and such. Revealed ownership can expose vulnerable groups to retribution by enemies and repressive regimes. Even the current controversy around the sale of the non-profit .org registry by the Internet Society to a private capital fund has raised questions around the protections afforded to social activist .org domain name holders.

[20] For example, Canadian citizens and permanent residents engaging in prohibited child sexual exploitation in a foreign country can be prosecuted in Canada even when they have not been convicted in the foreign country.

[21] It cannot simply mean the right to disconnect when access is increasingly seen as integral to both human and digital rights. It would be like saying that one can escape constraints on literal citizenship by ceasing to breath.

[22] Estonia is offering a digital e-residency. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Residency_of_Estonia

[23] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_crime , A good example of a state crime was the persecution of minorities in Nazi Germany.

[24] From: https://wikimili.com/en/Political_crime

[25] https://www.un.org/en/charter-united-nations/

[26] In both cases this can spill over into being subject to physical violence or engaging in acts of physical violence. The literal and digital worlds are parts of one single larger reality.

[27] Covid19 makes for an interesting and important new example. The speed and the volume misinformation appeared about Covid19 overwhelming. How do we move from an Internet saturated with misinformation and false news to an emphasis on an “information commons” based on evidence, truth and integrity? At one level this has become the Internet’s finest hour, using novel approaches to address pandemic circumstances at lightning speed. Digital processes and digital actors (firms, organizations, governments, and individuals) have emerged as crucial to how we combat disease. At another level emerging practices are raising questions about policy, practices and behavior that will have to be addressed once society is no longer of a war footing fighting the covid-19 virus outbreak.

[28] It can be perceived as a threat to the political authority of the state if individuals distribute material containing uncensored information which undermines the credibility of state-controlled news media. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_crime

[29] Edward Joseph Snowden leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, after seeing the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress by denying that the NSA wittingly collects data on millions of Americans. In May 20, 2013, Snowden left the United states to seek physical asylum and remains abroad. Julian Paul Assange, the Australian who founded WikiLeaks, published a series of leaks provided by U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. After a series of asylum moves and legal complications Assanage faces legal indictment from the United States and remains incarcerated in Britain’s London Belmarsh Prison. Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, the American activist, whistleblower and former US Army soldier, was court-martialed in 2013 for violations of the US Espionage Act and other offenses after disclosing military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, and was sentenced to prison in 2017. In Marsh 2020, a Federal judge orders Chelsea Manning’s release from jail.

[30] Poitras, Laura; Greenwald, Glenn (June 9, 2013), (video), The Guardian. London.

[31] Greenwald, Glenn; MacAskill, Ewen; Poitras, Laura (June 9, 2013). “Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations”. The Guardian. London.

[32] Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking to the House Armed Services Committee (March 2014).

[33] Whistleblower leaks can be used to illuminate truth, or to influence outcomes. At the start of the 2016 US Presidential campaign Wikileaks released documents pertaining to Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton. The U.S. Intelligence Community and a Special Counsel investigation concluded that that the Russian government carried out the hacking to interfere in the 2016 US Presidential elections.

[34] For the use of identity data to persecute asylum seekers see: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/magazine/ice-surveillance-deportation.html

[35] Even the idea of a permanent digital identification is subject to much debate. Benefits are being weighed against a “nanny” or “surveillance” state watching and meddling into every aspect of one’s personal affairs. This concern is amplified when it comes to applications like AI enhanced facial recognition software linked to broadly installed camera networks. The current Chinese personal “Social Credit” score, based on mass digital and video surveillance, is an example of such practices.

[36] The UN sees as one of its central roles to enforce the right to nationality, as the right to nationality implies protection of the human rights of every individual to a minimal standard, set down in the UDHR. This is reflected in the large amount of treaties and resolutions and UN agencies work on the topic. See: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/Nationality.aspx

[37] Sadly, this was frequently at the expense of native populations seen to have no rights at all, and in some cases viewed as less than human.

[38] https://www.unhcr.org/figures-at-a-glance.html

[39] https://www.climateforesight.eu/migrations/environmental-migrants-up-to-1-billion-by-2050/

By Klaus Stoll, Digital Citizen

Klaus has over 30 years’ practical experience in Internet governance and implementing ICTs for development and capacity building globally. He is a regular organizer and speaker at events, advisor to private, governmental and civil society organizations, lecturer, blogger and author of publications centering empowered digital citizenship, digital dignity and integrity.

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