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Internet Governance and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Part 9: Articles 26-30

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Digital Age. Articles 26-30: A Better Tomorrow: Rights, Responsibilities, Digital Integrity and Trust

Co-authored by Prof Sam Lanfranco and Klaus Stoll1

As we work on this final CircleID essay addressing the last four Articles in the UDHR, we explore how the UDHR provides the principles on which to build the rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship and bring integrity and trust to cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem. We reflect on what we have learned.

For us, the authors of this series, we are reminded that trust in the processes of government, business entities, and society is central to the wellbeing of society, our communities, our families, and ourselves. The second thing we are reminded of is that trust in the digital space is based on the integrity of digital governance, business, and societal processes. This requires attention to both the structures of government, business and society, and the processes they engage in.

As we go forward in this work, we are undertaking a demanding new initiative in the form of the Internet Integrity Task Force (IITF) in which we hope for broad stakeholder engagement as we address the challenges going ahead. This goes hand-in-hand with the wider calls for greater citizen engagement in governance, greater stakeholder engagement in business, and a heightened concern for our notions of community. These hold true for our existence in both the literal and virtual worlds.

Turning to this last piece in our analysis of the UDHR and its implications for the rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship, the integrity of governance, business and societal processes, and trust, we address UDHR Articles 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30. Still, first, we return briefly to the Preamble of the UDHR for final insights and guidance.

Preamble of the UDHR

The UDHR Preamble starts with recognizing the inherent dignity of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. It further stresses that: “...a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge”. A similar common understanding regarding digital governance, business and societal processes call for engagement as a learned responsibility of digital citizenship.

It is worth repeating the full language of the UN General Assembly Proclamation:

The UN General Assembly] Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

In looking at digital rights and responsibilities, one additional challenge is that one’s presence in cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem is both national and global and that securing the rights and responsibilities of one’s global digital citizenship is an additional task.

When we began this analysis of the UDHR and its lessons for our rights and responsibilities cyberspace we were unsure of how robust the UDHR would be, and where our explorations would lead us. We understood that our digital presence in cyberspace is as real in our lives as is our literal presence in physical time and space.

We have also seen the piecemeal efforts to address the problems at the levels of governance, business, and society, efforts to address the problems associated with our digital presence, and we want to take a more holistic approach, based on principles and guided by the UDHR, to assist our understanding of digital citizenship, digital integrity, and trust. We turn to the Articles.

Article 26: Education as a Human Right

Article 26 is aspirational and focuses on education as a human right for: “the development of the human personality; strengthening respect for human rights and freedoms; promoting understanding, tolerance, and friendship; and furthering United Nations activities for the maintenance of peace.”

Article 26: (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

When the UDHR was written, society was in the middle of a major transformation in the role of education in society. At the end of the 19th Century, most of the world was predominately agricultural, with much of knowledge and most skills, based on learning-while-doing. By the middle of the 20th Century formal education, and an educated citizenry, were becoming central to socio-economic progress and wellbeing.

Article 26: (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

By the start of the 21st Century, education and knowledge sharing have been crucial to progress and wellbeing. Cyberspace, the digital venue, the Internet ecosystem, whatever label is used, represents a revolutionary transformation in how knowledge is produced, shared, and used.

The benefits of education and the shared use of knowledge are essential not just for personal advancement but also for engagement as a stakeholder in governance, business, and societal processes, and also for mutual understanding for a social fabric woven in friendship and peace.

The final part of Article 26 states that parents have a right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 26: (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

At the time of the proclamation of the UDHR, this looked to be a non-controversial proposition. However, there is a dual challenge here. In many settings, curriculum policy has become highly political, with parents engaged in battles that are not always in the best interests of their children. Also, a vast number of children have no access to education or limited access to poor education in resource-scarce settings shaped by the low educational resources or weak educational priorities of governments. As a result, they neither share the benefits of education nor acquire the knowledge and tools to be engaged in the governance, business, and societal processes that shape the literal, much less the digital world around them.

Unfortunately, the early uses of cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem have demonstrated that digital venues can also fuel racial and religious hate and fuel the fires of conflict. Moreover, the digital practices of government and business can also support or run counter to the principles of the UDHR. This presents a heightened and urgent challenge in bringing human rights, dignity, and trust to the digital processes of government, business, and society. Knowledgeable engagement is central to that task.

Article 27: Participation and intellectual Property Rights

Article 27 of the UDHR has two parts. The first part focuses on one’s rights to freely participate in the community’s cultural life, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. The second part is about intellectual property and states that everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary, or artistic production of which [s]he is the author.

Article 27: (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts, and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

We take the first part to call for engagement both as a consumer and as a producer and in ways beyond mere participation in the marketplace. Citizen’s engagement in the development of the policies and practices of governance, business and societal behavior is central to achieving and maintaining digital integrity and societal trust.

The second part of Article 27, dealing with intellectual property, presents both literal and digital society with greater challenges. Those challenges span what constitutes intellectual property, how it is produced, and the terms under which it is accessed and used. Digital space has both disrupted and extended the issues and challenges surrounding intellectual property. This is a vast, complicated, and changing area.

Article 27: (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which [s]he is the author.

While there are numerous intellectual property issues within the Internet ecosystem, here, and in the work of the IITF, we focus on the Article’s “rights to freely participate in the community’s cultural life and to enjoy and benefit from the arts and scientific advancement.” We take that to mean engagement as a producer, a consumer, and a beneficiary, including engagement of the governance and social norms that set the policies and behavior for such participation.

With respect to intellectual property, for our work going forward within IITF, we will focus on the relationship between the rights assigned to intellectual property and the rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship, digital integrity, and societal trust.

Article 28: Social and International Order for Rights and Freedoms

Article 28 is aspirational and calls for a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms outline in the UDHR can be realized. The same can be said for the digital rights and responsibilities of digital citizenship.

Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

One important complication is that in digital space, one also has a global presence and residency. This calls for attention to developing multilateral (global) policies that enshrine one’s rights and responsibilities as a global digital citizen. One is directed to how we have addressed the laws of the sea and space.

Article 29: Obligations and Duties

Article 29 is about obligations and duties and reminds us that we have duties to the community to ensure that everyone can pursue the free and full development of their personality subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely to secure 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.

Article 29: (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

Article 29: (2) 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.

Article 29: (2) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

This requires attention to both the literal and digital structures of government, business, and society’s social fabric and to the digital integrity of governance, business, and societal processes.

Further, the UDHR states that this 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.

It is worth noting that in the current disputes over one’s rights with regard to good practices within the Covid-19 pandemic, the major emphasis has been on “my individual rights” with scant attention paid to “my individual responsibilities.” This points to shortcomings in our education and our shared knowledge of the complementary roles of rights and responsibilities.

Today, given the state of the planet, the thrust of Article 29 is more important than ever. Political culture, especially digital political culture, immediate challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic, and long-term challenges like climate change are reminders that we have responsibilities to the community.

The evolution of socio-economic, behavioral norms over the past century, driven by consumer-focused market forces and combined with a dramatic decline in education around governance (civics), has resulted in a heightened sense of “my rights” and diminution in the sense of “my responsibilities.” A notion of “in my bubble” has led to a sense of tribalism and of “we vs. them” that has fractured society and devalued concerns for the common good. These tendencies are both anti-UDHR and have been heightened with the speed and scope of processes within the venues of cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem.

Similarly, aspirational concerns such as those in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) can either be assisted or obstructed depending on how digital organizations and processes operate regarding each of those objectives and how they shape the global stage for addressing the pressing needs of poverty, exclusion, and marginalization, especially in the context of climate change.

Article 30: No Notwithstanding Power

Article 30, the final article of the UDHR, expands on Article 29 and states that no State, group, or person may engage in activities contrary to the rights and freedoms set forth herein, or in any activity or act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth within the UDHR.

Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

This means that the UDHR does not allow for notwithstanding power, no power that permits governments to override certain portions of the Declaration. This has not, however, prevented them from ignoring aspects of the UDHR, suppressing human rights, and blocking one’s engagement in the responsibilities of citizenship.

Concluding Remarks

When we started this review of the UDHR and the search for what it could teach us about the need for a principles-based approach to our digital rights and responsibilities, and as a guide to the integrity of digital governance, business, and societal processes, we were unsure of where it might lead us. As we complete this review, we are convinced that the UDHR can serve as the foundation for our living together and our common humanity in both literal and digital space.

For the most part, the principles of the UDHR can serve as the basis for rights, responsibilities, integrity, and trust in both literal and digital space. Starting from a principles approach is preferred to a fragmented problem-focused “whack a mole” approach to digital policy and social norms.

Our work on The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the Digital Age does not come to an end; it just moves to a broader and more inclusive level. Within the work of the Internet Integrity Task Force (IITF) we do plan to draft a Charter of Digital Rights and Responsibilities, but that will be a consultative exercise resulting in minor changes to the language of the UDHR to accommodate some of the unique properties of cyberspace and the Internet ecosystem, and to modernize certain wording, for example, the use of inclusive and gender-neutral terms. Additionally, there will be further articles and print publications in several languages on the topics. To establish a wider understanding on the fundamental importance of the UDHR and its values, there will also be online events, for example, within the framework of upcoming IGF and as CircleID community events.

Lastly, we [Klaus Stoll and Sam Lanfranco] would like to thank CircleID for the opportunity to undertake this journey and invite you, the CircleID reader, to join us as engaged digital citizens as we address the challenges of work within the Internet Integrity Task Force.

  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 [email protected] and [email protected] 

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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