Allison's Reflections

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Blog #1000: Human Rights in Cyberspace

Filed under: Uncategorized — allee at 5:44 pm on Friday, October 28, 2016

In “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, Barlow asserts that “[Government’s] legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to [Cyberspace]. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here.” Moreover, he contends that “we are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

Am I the only one who feels like this laissez-faire-esque approach to the internet is not necessarily as positive as Barlow makes it out to be?

As I’ve brought up in past blog posts, I’ve experienced “flaming” firsthand while playing eSports. Freedom of speech in real life is, of course, guaranteed by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can say anything with no repercussions. Especially because of the anonymity granted in Cyberspace, I find that many people are willing to express hurtful or derogatory sentiments without fear of consequence. I think that especially as there have been tragic cases related to cyberbullying recently, there need to be some ground rules. The question is, do those need to be set by a country’s government, or is there another body that can take care of this? I looked into whether the IETF had anything to say about this, as it seems that they are a prevalent community when it comes to the evolution of the internet.

There seem to exist a lot of groups within the IETF that handle matters relevant to human rights and freedom of speech. There’s the Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group, which is “chartered to research whether standards and protocols can enable, strengthen or threaten human rights included not limited to the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of assembly”. I found it intriguing that these two rights are actually guaranteed by Amendments to our Constitution. The next thing I wondered was how effective the IETF is in managing human rights-related issues.

As usual, a simple Google search turned up a multitude of results. One that I found particularly intriguing was this article. It recounts some of the key points made at IETF 91, which was held in Hawaii in November 2014. The Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group was created as a result of this meeting; however, the article mentions that considerable concerns were raised regarding the potential for the politicization of the IETF if human rights were even researched. At the meeting, one respondent stated, “we have to stop pretending that technology is a nonpolitical decision”.

Talk about controversial.

I think one of the largest issues with the relatively decentralized structure of the IETF is that because it’s so open, there’s not really anyone making executive decisions regarding human rights. While that’s also a beauty of an open community, I think that it can be harmful. Clearly, flaming and cyberbullying continue to be unfortunately omnipresent. At what point, if any, would it be appropriate for the government to step in? Or would government intervention completely stem the freedom associated with the internet, as Barlow would no doubt suggest? I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions on this in seminar soon 🙂


1 Comment »


Comment by profsmith

November 13, 2016 @ 9:41 pm

You’ve hit on an incredibly important topic that has seen too little progress. I don’t know what it will take for progress to start, but I hope your generation solves this very real problem. My generation has paid too little attention to it.

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