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Internet Governance and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Part 5: Article 15-17

Articles 15, (revisited)16-17, Freedom of Assembly, Economic and Social Rights. Co-authored by Klaus Stoll, Prof Sam Lanfranco, Sarah Deutsch1

Internet Governance, like all governance, needs to be founded in guiding principles from which all policy making is derived. There are no more fundamental principles to guide our policy making than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR). This article as Part 5 of the series of articles2 (published in installments), and we are revisiting Article 15 to look at empowered Digital Citizenship and Internet Governance, to move on to the rights to a family and property3.

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

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

In the previous article of the series, we looked at the Rights and Obligations of digital citizenship. As promised in Part 4, we will now further explore empowered digital citizenship and Internet Governance.

Empowered Digital Citizenship: Internet Governance and a Better Future

This series examines what the UDHR tells us about what could be, and maybe what should be, our rights and obligations in the digital spaces of the Internet ecosystem. Across communities, there is not likely to be one unique path or one unique arrangement of mechanisms. Here, we only propose an aspirational starting point, beginning with engaged digital stakeholders as individuals and as members of communities.

This part of the series is being written at a time when the world is gripped in a global pandemic that is unleashing virus-driven illness and death on a scale not seen in over a century.4 This pandemic is both a health and an economic crisis, and a crisis where we are relying as never before on digital technologies to carry on our personal, business and public lives. Internet access has become a literal matter of life and death. The realities of digital space are impacting on, and affected by, the pandemic as much as are our literal and biological realities. There is a growing understanding that the virtual and the literal are integral parts of both our individual and our collective realities.

This crisis is pitting public health concerns against economic concerns, reflected in debate on how to balance health strategies (testing, isolation, social distance) with the health of the economy (jobs, income, output). It is also raising issues around regulations and policy directives as complements to, or in competition with, social-behavioral norms. These issues always reside just below the surface in Internet citizenship and Internet policy discussions. How do we decide the tradeoff, under uncertainty during this pandemic, when we think about mandating society’s protection of common good, balanced against the rights and duties of persons? Let’s deal with that for a moment.

“The common good is about how we live together in community. It’s about the ethical ideals we strive for together, the benefits and burdens we share, the sacrifices we make for one another. It’s about the lessons we learn from one another about how to live a good and decent life.”
Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel5

“We” appears five times in Sandel’s definition of the common good. In contrast, the UDHR is highly focused on the individual, on the “Me”.6

The definition, defense and exercise of one’s rights and duties as a person never occur apart from one’s membership within the larger community. While the rights focus on the person, the duties are focused on the community. The relationship between the person and the community has never been more relevant to social policy and social behavior than in today’s digital age.

The traditional notion of community is heavily constrained by time and space and shaped by historical experience. The pervasive and global scope of the Internet means that in actuality (literally), one’s presence and residence are in multiple communities that operate across time and space. Peoples’ online simultaneous residences range from long-standing spaces to extemporaneous “pop-up” communities such as the multitude of such “gatherings” in the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The global and instantaneous venue of the Internet presents an aspirational starting point to engage digital stakeholders in shaping policy and behavior for both individual rights and for obligations on how communities live together.

Individual rights, within Internet governance, do not come from simply imposing a predetermined governance model onto the Internet ecosystem. Nor can a social fabric of acceptable behavior be simply willed into being. They are not like simple decisions, like deciding about driving on which side of the road. Establishing the rights and duties of digital citizenship will likely be a two-stage process.

The first stage will involve identifying and subscribing to a set of basic principles, much like those in the UDHR. The second stage will be the process of legislative and behavioral changes over time, changes that flesh out the rights and duties of one’s digital citizenship, both at the national and the global levels. Just as the rights and duties of literal national citizenship have developed and changed over time, digital national citizenship will go through the same process.

It is likely that global digital citizenship will develop in two directions, upward from the refinement of national digital citizenship, and downward from principles and ideas starting with the notion of a global digital citizenship that exists in addition to and partially apart from one’s national digital citizenship.

The processes used to define digital citizenship cannot be independent of the governance process used to govern a country and define literal digital citizenship. This suggests that the processes used to define digital citizenship are both constrained by existing governance processes, also have the potential to address some of the contemporary failings of governance processes in democratic countries.

The current Internet ecosystem is a toxic stew of good information and analysis, poisoned by abundant doses of bad information, false news, and lies. It is a bit like the State of medicine in the late 19th century when medications ranged from folk remedies to benign untested remedies, snake oil salesmen and the outright poisonous.

At the national level, one’s rights and duties of digital citizenship will come to have the same legal status as one’s literal citizenship. The reverse may not, and need not, be the case. Estonia is a country with a strong digital residency regime. A foreigner may acquire national digital e-Residency without being a literal resident of the country. A digital resident may have no literal residency rights.7

The challenge before us now is:

What should be the rights and obligations of a digital resident’s digital citizenship?

There is no “off the shelf” prepackaged answer to that question. The rights and obligations of both state-level and global digital citizenship are, and must be, a work in progress, developing top-down in the form of rules and regulations, and developing bottom us as behavioral norms are woven into the social fabric and implicit social contract. The questions to be addressed here include:

  • How are the rights and duties of global digital citizenship related to those of national (state-level) digital citizenship?
  • What levels of stakeholder engagement are called for in the policy development process around digital citizenship rights and obligations?

Some will argue that there is a need for something akin to a global cyber state overseeing the development, administration and enforcement of the rights and duties of global digital citizenship. Others will object, arguing that such an approach is impractical and a global cyber state infringes on the sovereignty of the nation-state.8

There is however a middle ground—one with a long history in terms of dealing with issues at the global level. That middle ground between no global governance and an unpalatable global governance is the use of multilateral agreements.9 One possible path forward involves exploring policy processes (mechanisms) and efforts that involve engaged multi-stakeholderism at the bottom, and state-led multilateralism at the top.10

The physical nation-states play an ambiguous role when it comes to protecting digital citizenship rights. They are developing policies related to national digital citizenship, while trying to extend that control into global cyberspace. Such strategies are bound to experience extreme difficulties in the borderless cyberspace of the Internet ecosystem. These issues become even more challenging when such national policies inevitably clash with each other across jurisdictional boundaries.

So long as states fail to recognize the global borderless nature of cyberspace, their efforts to protect their citizens in global cyberspace will always be inadequate. It will take states entering international treaties that regulate the digital relationships between literal states in order to ensure that the rights of their citizens are respected in borderless cyberspace.

At an individual level, empowered digital citizenship should bring the right to access global cyberspace, the right of protection by the State, and the obligation of the State to engage in multilateral efforts to protect its citizens’ global digital rights. On the other hand, state-level interference with cyberspace, such as network takedowns, constitute an abridgment of principle-based rights of digital citizenship in both national and global cyberspace.11

Article 15: (2) states that: “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.” This confronts us with an interesting conundrum in global cyberspace. While one’s national and global digital residency can be protected or abridged by the actions of one’s nation-state, and by multilateral agreements, what might it mean to change one’s digital nationality? As well, given the fluid definition of nationality, one may well possess multiple digital nationalities. If states arbitrarily abridge digital citizenship rights in cyberspace, what are the citizen’s options? One can, of course, exercise engaged participation to try to enshrine and protect digital rights. One can resist when confronted with tactics contrary to the universal principles enshrined in the UDHR, or enshrined in subsequent global digital citizenship covenants.

Does one have a right, or a possibility, to secede? The answer is both a yes and a no. One can secede from a state’s jurisdiction by emigration, but one cannot secede from the global cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem any more than one can secede from earth’s gravity. The mere fact of existing now makes one a resident of global cyberspace. One is likely to have residency even prior to birth.

What this means is one’s presence is preordained, that one has a duty and an obligation to willfully become an engaged digital citizen in the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem from the moment one is capable of measured and deliberate action. This does not mean a childhood engagement in the governance processes, but it does mean a progressive learning and understanding of integrity-based engagement in policy and behavioral norms that make one a responsible, engaged digital citizen of the national and global internet ecosystems.12

Disenchantment, Digital Governance and Engaged Digital Citizenship

One cannot opt-out of cyberspace any more than one can opt-out of gravity. One can, however, be disenchanted with one digital residency, be that one’s digital residency where one possesses literal citizenship or one of several virtual residencies in communities. One can be alienated from the governance and socio-economic processes that surround a particular digital residency. How individuals are treated within their digital residency has consequences for their literal lives. It can promote engagement as citizen stakeholders or disengagement as alienated digital citizens.

The three sources of frustration, disappointment and concern are:

  1. underdeveloped governance mechanisms and social norms (embedded in society’s social contract and social fabric) that fail to facilitate a safe and secure existence in one’s literal and virtual life.
  2. lack of confidence in the integrity of digital business and governance practices as they impact the personal (e.g., privacy and security). Here—confidence goes beyond privacy and security to trust in the Internet not only from an infrastructure perspective, but as a trusted source of information, e-commerce, etc. The recent fraud associated with our current COVID19 crisis is a good example of how the trust in the Internet can be eroded if abuse is not addressed.
  3. the absence of adequate stakeholder dialogue and engagement in policy planning, in implementation and in the capture and use of lessons learned.

The lack of an appropriate governance mechanism, and of an appropriate social contract woven into the social fabric can be explained, if not excused, by the relative newness of the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem.

The resulting lack of confidence by stakeholders and the questionable integrity of many digital business and governance practices are clearly issues to be addressed. Progress on both depends on improving stakeholder engagement in planning, implementation, and advances base on lessons learned.

The challenge at hand is clear. It is to move from disenchanted and indifferent residency to engaged citizenship in cyberspace, a move to an engaged residency that sees the rights and obligations of digital citizenship codified at the appropriate levels of governance and acceptable behavior woven into the social fabric.

Here the focus in on rights and obligations at the global level, in those spaces and regions of the global Internet ecosystem that are beyond the reach of individual nation-states, those spaces where residency may be within multiple communities. Progress here will likely require cooperation via multilateral, intergovernmental, and international mechanisms.

The contemporary response to issues of personal privacy and security, and to entanglement with questionable digital business and governance processes is the common refrain:

“Somebody should do something about that.”

The refrain presents both problems and suggested approaches.

The “that” referred to in the refrain is seldom clear enough to be the target of focused stakeholder engagement in the policy process. A wider discourse is needed to specify and assign priority to the “that” list for policy development. Is “that” personal data privacy, false news, faulty analysis, or what? How is the solution to be a blend of governance actions and a rebuild of the social fabric and underlying social contract to accommodate new behaviors in the new realities of digital residency in the Internet ecosystem?

The “somebody” is equally problematic; who is that, who should do what? Digital residency in the global Internet ecosystem does not fall under the jurisdiction of existing regimes of sovereign governance. Whatever process is used to enact policy, it must pass through some governance mechanism. That will require a blend of multilateral, intergovernmental, and international venues. This process will have to strike a balance between what needs to be codified and what should be nurtured in a digitally enhanced social fabric and social contract.

The “something” is the most problematic element in the refrain. The governance mechanism must operate through a venue of sovereign participants. The something, as policies, regulations, or whatever, must help define and respect the rights and duties of digital residency and digital citizenship, and contribute to the rebuild of the social fabric and underlying social contract.13 Because these are hard issues, the outcome often reverts to doing nothing. Doing nothing in the face of clear harm is not a sustainable approach and only further erodes consumer trust. Again—COVID19 presents a good case study to show how dependent we all are at this time in history on the Internet to stay connected, to learn, to have access to information, entertainment, e-commerce…etc.

The notion of nationality contained in the UDHR, as ambiguous as it may be, presumes that nationality needs to be respected under the relevant sovereign law. Extending the principles of the UDHR protections to the global digital residents of the Internet is the central task of Internet Governance activity, an activity that needs to be stakeholder grounded at the bottom, and a blend of legislated agreements and social fabric/contract efforts.14

Presence and Association in the Digital Age

While the virtual reality of cyberspace and the literal reality of physical space blend into the seamless larger lived reality, there are points in the UDHR that remind us of major differences between the virtual and the literal.

Article 16, with its focus on marriage and the family, is a good example of this.

Article 16: (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

Article 16: (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

Article 16: (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

What are the analogs to family and marriage in the Internet ecosystem? Also, the disruptions of this digital age remind us that the social fabric is a patchwork quilt, occasionally in need of alterations and repair.

Certain parts of Article 16 link to the core principles of the UDHR and are timeless, while other parts reflect the social norms of the time. At its core is the equitable treatment of the genders regarding the rights of legal union and protection by society and the State.15 One possible relevance is about the possibilities of digital marriage, performed online. This emulates a traditional literal marriage, but what if an authorized officiant is not present, does the marriage have legal standing?16 There are lessons here from the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 illness can come on suddenly and with life-threatening consequences. Many risk reaching imminent death without a will, and quarantine prohibits witnessing signatures. Governments quickly adjusted to accept remote witnessing, by digital video. The point of this example is that what was only acceptable literally will increasingly be accepted virtually, in the digital venue.

Returning to Article 16 for insights regarding what is/are the “fundamental group unit[s] of digital society” and their entitlements “to protection by society and the state,” the UDHR focus is on the family. One does not necessarily have to focus on “The family.” Going back to UDHR Article 11 and the freedom of assembly and association, various digital groupings, above and beyond various forms of digital marriage, can be considered as entitled to such protection.

Digital personas and groupings of digital personas (digital nations) also need protection in cyberspace for whatever purposes those relationships are formed so long as they are within the limits of the law. This is a pressing and difficult area since social media site owners are making independent, non-transparent and unaccountable decisions as to which individual and groups can have residency in their regions of cyberspace, and what digital personas are to be constructed or allowed to exist, based in part on the purposes and intent of the groups and to large degree on the business interests of the social media site provider.17

This is an area where reflection and dialogue are called for, in order to fashion regulations acceptable business practices, to reach a consensus on applicable social norms, and to establish dispute resolution mechanisms.

Property, Ownership and Behavior in the Internet Ecosystem

The advent of the digital spaces on the Internet ecosystem has prompted a massive creation of digital properties and a massive “land grab.” This is promoting the need for deeper reflection on society’s notions of property, property ownership and property use.

Regarding property (in the literal world), Article 17 of the UDHR is very clear.

Article 17: (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

Article 17: (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Whatever is defined as property, one has the right to ownership and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s property. Of course, ownership can be subject to a multitude of restrictions, covenants and entitlements, as in the case of land where there are zoning regulations, and riparian water rights.18

What property is less clear in the Internet ecosystem? What are the “properties” of Internet properties? What are the rights and obligations of ownership for such properties? The technical infrastructure of cyberspace, the machines, cables and satellites, the buildings, etc. are clearly properties in the traditional sense. The digital services they provide are a more complicated area. Many of the services are only enabled by legal and regulatory relationships with governments. Technically and legally, even Internet domain names are not owned properties. Their use is via a contract with an Internet registrar that has a contract with a registry that has, in turn, a contract with ICANN.19

Privately-owned undersea cables need landing rights at a country’s shoreline. Satellites and wireless terrestrial systems need legal access to limited radio-frequency bandwidth. Government policies on competition and monopolies may dictate shared access by competitors, and the terms of that shared access. There are disagreements about regulations and terms of access, based on the extent to which user access should be treated as a public good, and providers should be treated as regulated utilities or be left to face unfettered market forces.20

Much of the value of a presence in the Internet ecosystem comes from the rights of ownership and/or access to digital assets and processes. While intangible in a literal sense, they are real in a substantive sense, in terms of the impact of the realities of life, community, commerce and governance. Included in this basket of intangibles are domain names, intellectual property, digital processes, and the ever-increasing and important assembly, storage, and use of archived data. While intellectual property is included in the UDHR’s definition of property, it is important that these are not stand-alone rights but must be balanced with other human rights. For example, if an internet intermediary receives a demand letter from an IP owner today to cut off a person’s internet access based on an allegation of IP infringement, the property rights in Article 17(1) must be balanced with the UDHR’s other rights. That termination demand must be balanced with Article 11 (1), which states that,

“Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.”

As a practical reality that is clear from surviving during the time of a global pandemic, terminating Internet access would mean possibly disconnecting an individual, an entire family, or even a broader community from access to the Internet. The Internet is the only way digital citizens have to access goods and services, participate in their education, and for some, the only way to communicate with their loved ones. Termination of Internet access based on the property right clashes with UDHR Article 12, which states no one should be subject to arbitrary interference with his family, home, or correspondence. Article 10 confirms that citizens are entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations. Article 9 states that no one should be subject to arbitrary exile, and in this case, the blunt remedy of terminating one’s internet access based on third party allegations of property rights disputes would result in a form of digital exile. Article 26 recognizes everyone’s rights to education, and Article 27 recognizes the right to participate in cultural events, both of which, in today’s pandemic, are only available through online access.

How the rights and duties of digital citizenship are defined and respected depends on how each of these intangibles is understood and handled, both via legislation and regulation, and via community norms woven into society’s social fabric and its underlying social contract. As illustrated by the examples above, the need to get this balance right is essential.

Regarding the scope of property rights, countries may even differ on what constitutes “property.” Japanese law states that “Data is intangible and not subject to ownership under the Civil Code.”21 Japan differentiates between personal and non-personal data, as well as intellectual property rights in digital cyberspace. However, the law does not address the fact that so-called non-personal data, collected from non-transactional behavior (e.g., browsing) and from ambient sources (digital apps, Internet of Things, facial recognition, etc.), is nevertheless tagged to individuals. Such data is used to construct individual digital personas for a myriad of economic, political, and other purposes. It is constructed with neither the awareness nor the consent of the targeted person.

The landscape of the Internet ecosystem is rich with properties, and potential properties, that have considerable commercial value. The notion of intellectual property—whether trademarks, trade names, materials subject to copyright protection or patent protection, are virtual assets that have tangible value as digital commercial properties. Much of that tangible value depending on the data that flows through the Internet’s infrastructure, the digital applications used to process it, and the ultimate uses to which it is put.

This poses a host of issues regarding what are the parameters of those properties. What are the rights and obligations of those property owners/holders? What are acceptable processes within digital cyberspace? What are the rights and obligations of those whose data is the raw material that feeds those processes and gives value to those properties and processes? What rights does the individual have to those personas constructed to assess one’s personal, commercial and political behavior and tendencies, and what rights to the uses to which they are put?

What is clear here is that there is a rich agenda of work to be carried out with respect to understanding the notions of property within the Internet ecosystem. That understanding is integral to building responsible and effective Internet governance, as well as weaving norms of acceptable behavior into society’s social fabric.

These understandings and agreements around them are integral to drafting appropriate regulations for the rights and duties of one’s digital citizenship in the Internet ecosystem. Stakeholder engagement is essential in governance, and it is integral to society’s efforts to rebuild a disrupted social fabric and underlying social contact to provide a guidance matrix for acceptable behavior within the Internet ecosystem.

There is a need for both a governance structure that produces effective Internet governance and a stakeholder lead rebuild of the social fabric in order to identify and protect the rights and duties of engaged digital citizenship.

Reflecting on the UDHR, it is important to remember that while data is virtual, it becomes as real as a rock in our hand when it impacts our individual and collective realities. Intangible data becomes tangible and real through the effect it has on our literal world. The digital and literal realms may be thought of as “separate but inseparable.” Together they constitute the reality in which we now live.22

Data Ownership and related IP property issues: My Car is Spying on Me

Nothing becomes property until it has value in use. Medieval English village common lands, and tribal lands globally, were communal with common access. They became “enclosed” (privatized), when exclusion and entitled access brought benefits of some, while diminishing the rights of others. The ownership and value of data are experiencing a similar enclosure movement as the result of three factors that are coming to fruition at the same time.

The first two factors are the quantum leaps in the capacity to store and process data. The third is the rapid growth of fifth-generation wireless communications technology (5G) for digital cellular networks.

Together they expand the ability of the broadly defined Internet of Things (IoT) to generate and share data in real-time.23 For example, autonomous vehicles share data at speeds necessary to support navigation in real-time. Such data is available in real-time, and in archived format, for other uses. Vehicular and cell phone data story plot lines are already standard fare for tracking “persons of interest” in popular television, movies, and online video, and have been used by countries like South Korea to track human movement for dealing with contact and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Archived vehicular date is time, space and process specific and already being used by manufacturers, insurance companies and others.24 Who has what rights to what, and on what conditions, in terms of the data I produce, and the data capture about me by ambient devices? My car, my cell phone, and my heart monitor, all share data on me with others elsewhere in the Internet ecosystem. Sharing it to what ends? My car is spying on me, I am not sure to what uses, and I probably don’t like that.25 Even data that is said to be anonymized, can readily be used to re-identify an individual with just a few added data elements.

This example demonstrates that ownership of an IoT “thing” (here, the car) means that owning the thing does not establish either data ownership or data control.26 The properties of digital properties, the ownership of digital properties, and the rights and duties of the producers and controllers of digital properties are all areas of ongoing policy development. It is crucial that those policy processes involve stakeholder participation by engaged digital citizens, while at the same time, society defines the fundamental notions of the rights and duties of digital citizenship.

We share the same common lands today as the medieval English village if we acknowledge those common interests. The global pandemic has led some to acknowledge that intellectual property rights might lead to societal roadblocks to finding urgent cures and treatments. Some technology companies recently took the lead in announcing they will remove IP property roadblocks and grant free temporary licenses to their patented and copyrighted technologies to allow others to pursue treatments and cures without fear of IP legal ramifications. The Open COVID Pledge is an innovative example of how the global commons can be invoked to protect the broader public good when it is needed most.27


Data Markets and Data Owner/Controller Data Rights

There are massive markets for data, markets for specific data subsets and markets for so-called big data. The uses of such data can be for honorable uses such as epidemiological health studies, for exploitive commercial or political ends, or for nefarious cybercrime purposes. Even when uses are prohibited, such as when law enforcement agencies are not allowed to use applications that track cell phone use, agencies can and do turn to third party entities that scrape, purchase and sell carrier cell tower data.28

Different regions of the globe are at different stages in thinking about legislation and regulations to deal with intellectual property, data ownership, and data privacy. Europe has enacted The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Passed by the European Union (EU), it has extraterritoriality elements and imposes obligations on organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The US Congress has held hearings on data privacy and ownership issues, but there has been little movement in terms of legislation. Last year one, then-Democratic presidential candidate, Andrew Yang, included “data as a property right” a central policy platform of his campaign29. The proposal was scarcely developed. Both the EU and US are considering wholesale overhauls to intellectual property laws and safe harbors from liability under the US Digital Millennial Copyright Act and the EU’s E-Commerce Directive. Whether new intellectual property rights will result in new liabilities and negatively impact citizens’ and right to access the Internet remains in play.

We are early in the necessary discussions around the rights and terms of access to data, how those rights and terms are reconciled with regard to the rights and obligations of digital citizenship, and how those rights are protected and those duties are carried out. Personal data as a tradeable good, or its uses by the data controller, risk the establishment of a form of digital slavery, where one’s digital personas were in the service of other. That would constitute not just an assault on one’s digital rights but, in a world where the digital and the literal are “separate but inseparable,” that would constitute an assault on one’s fundamental human rights under the UDHR.

We have focused on the rights side of one’s digital presence, one’s ownership of digital properties. In this article, we opened the door a bit on digital obligations, but little has been said about the obligations that come with digital property ownership. That side of the coin will be dealt with when we get to the UDHR’s Article 29:2, which states:

“In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.”

The existing scope and scale of low integrity and predatory digital business practices operating in the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem are neither desirable nor sustainable. Many of them violate the notions of decency and trust that were integral to the social fabric and underlying social contract that we built for our literal world. The challenges here offer an opportunity to both push for integrity in digital business practices and to cultivate engaged stakeholder learning and participation in those efforts. The newness of the digital context and the long history of defending universal human rights offers an opportunity for engaged stakeholder participation in shaping the digital reality within the principles that guided the UDHR.

Our journey thus far through the UDHR has shown us the need for a governance process with its foundations in an empowered digital citizenship. The underlying principles of internet governance, at every level, can largely draw on the principles on which the UDHR is based.

As we continue and complete our journey through the rest of the Articles of the UHDR, we will more deeply understand how those principles can serve as the building blocks for the rights and duties of digital residency and citizenship in the cyberspaces of the Internet ecosystem. In the next piece in this series, we turn to UDHR Article 18, which addresses one’s right to freedom of thought and religion or belief and explore what it means for the rights and duties of digital residence and citizenship.

  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 and
  2. Part 1-4 are available at: http://www.circleid.com/members/8325/ 
  3. This series of articles are presented a bit like preparing the foundation for a house, where 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.

    These articles are also a contribution to the upcoming 75th UN UDHR anniversary and as a start of an Internet ecosystem-wide discussion around digital rights and policy development. 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. 
  4. This is being written on World TB (Tuberculosis) Day. We would be remiss if we did not remind ourselves that TB is a more persistent and ongoing illness with 10 million new cases in 2019 and 1.5 million deaths. It commands less attention because its victims tend to be the poor and marginalized at the edges of the global economy. 
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/opinion/covid-ethics-politics.html 
  6. This is neither the time nor the place to explore the balance between individual rights and the common good in the UDHR, other than to observe that the UDHR was being drafted immediately after, and under the shadow of, a period of some of the most egregious violations of the rights and dignity of individual in the history of humanity. 
  7. Estonian e-Residency is a government-issued digital identity and status that provides access to Estonia’s transparent digital business environment. E-Residency allows digital entrepreneurs to manage business from anywhere, entirely online. https://e-resident.gov.ee/ 
  8. There is a long history of distrust around the notions of global governance, both as it may infringe on national sovereignty and on those personal rights and obligations that are secured under nation-state jurisdiction. One can see elements of this distrust and displeasure in the pro-Brexit arguments the underlay the UK exit from the European Community. 
  9. Multilateralism emerged as a post-WWII mechanism based on the failures around global cooperation that plagued the world, with terrible consequences, between WWI and WWII. 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. 
  10. Examples include the multistakeholder processes of the International Labor Office (ILO), and the various multilateral accords on the sea, the atmosphere, space, and other more specific issues. What they may lack is adequate multistakeholder engagement throughout the policy-making and implementation processes. 
  11. The role of the Internet during the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the growing understanding that access to (presence on) the Internet is an essential service, and increasingly seen as an essential element of the common good, to live a good and decent life 
  12. It should be noted that the learning involved in being an engaged and responsible global and national digital citizen will likely have transferable lessons regarding being an engaged and responsible national literal citizen. 
  13. Processes in these new digital territories are likely to be complicated by sovereign states seeking to engage in elements of extraterritoriality. 
  14. While not explored in detail here, part of rebuilding the social fabric and social contract will likely involve education around “digital civics”, meaning a combination of understanding digital governance processes, and one’s role in the digital ecosystem as an engaged digital citizen. 
  15. In these times, society is slowly broadening its notions and its understanding of gender and of what constitutes, under the permission and protection of law, states of legal union under the law. Whether the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society can be debated. Other societal groupings may be as or more important depending on the context and the issues at hand. There is clearly a different context when considering groupings in the digital spaces of the Internet ecosystem. 
  16. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/i-just-attended-the-first-stateless-digital-marriage-but-im-not-sure-if-it-can-change-the-world-a6782941.html 
  17. This is not to say that there should be no restrictions, but that restrictions should have some accountability and recourse to dispute resolution processes. A group that violates the law (e.g., engaged in child abuse) is easy to deal with. Groups advocating for community cases and public interest concerns are more problematic, and hence presence and deletion should be guided by a mix of regulations, community standards, transparency, and dispute resolution mechanisms, and not just the bottom line profits of the platform provider. 
  18. Riparian rights are a system for allocating water among those who possess land along its path. 
  19. Literal and virtual notions of property are already causing friction within the Internet ecosystem. Some companies (Amazon, Patagonia) acquired domain names (as intellectual property) before counties had time to object and there have been ongoing struggles between countries whose territorial features are coveted by companies seeking those names as corporate intellectual property. 
  20. These are not arcane issues. During the COVID-19 pandemic large populations that were cut off from internet access, for political reasons, suffered much greater risks to life due to lack of information and an inability to use the Internet and cell phone service for access to essential medical services and supplies. 
  21. The Japanese government, at the same time, differentiates nevertheless between personal and non-personal data. “Data is intangible and not subject to ownership under the Civil Code. Non-personal data may, in principle, be freely used—based on personal contracts, for example—except for legally protected intellectual property falling under copyright, trade secret, or other legal statutes.” , Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, METI. See: https://www.meti.go.jp/english/press/2017/pdf/0530_002b.pdf 
  22. Rolf Landauer, The Physical Nature of Information, 217 PHYSICS LETTERS A 188, 188 (1996). This statement is based on his earlier article “Information is Physical”, 44 PHYSICS TODAY 23—29 (1991). 
  23. There is a tendency to treat the Internet of Things as all those connected devises and applications that have come along after the personal computer and the cell phone. However, in terms of functionality and the issues around data ownership, Internet governance, and the rights and duties of one’s digital and literal personas, computers and cell phones should be considered as within the universe of the Internet of Things. 
  24. For example, many jurisdictions are having debates about installing traffic cameras to both help manage traffic flows and ticket traffic violations. The data flows from AI-enhanced vehicles will make such cameras redundant, with the policy issue becoming who has what rights to the data generated. 
  25. For further thoughts how AI impacts on today’s driving experience see: Stoll, “Questions of a Global Digital Citizen Before She Enters Her First Self Driving Car”, CircleID 
  26. In some areas, this has already led to legislation and regulations. Car manufacturers refused independent licensed garages access to the technical manuals and specialized devices to service their vehicles. Gradually US state legislation required the right of licensed garages to purchase the manuals and devices. A similar issue is growing in the farming sector. Currently, John Deere tractor’s electronics can only be serviced by a John Deere technician. John Deer argues that the tractor is sold but the software is provided under contract. 
  27. https://www.law360.com/ip/articles/1265926/tech-titans-commit-to-freeing-ip-to-aid-pandemic-response 
  28. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/19/opinion/location-tracking-cell-phone.html 
  29. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/andrew-yang-privacy-internet.html 

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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