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Interview mit Jermyn Brooks

Interview mit Jermyn Brooks

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Jermyn Brooks is Chair of both Transparency International's (TI) Business Advisory Board and of the Standards Board of Accountability. He is also the Independent Chair of the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a multi-stakeholder group of companies, civil society organizations , investors and academics who work together to protect and advance freedom of expression and privacy in the ICT sector.

Jermyn Brooks: “We need light regulation.”

What is the relationship between Internet and human rights? How important are human rights for the Internet, how important is the Internet for human rights, and how can they be protected in and via the Internet?

The Internet is becoming increasingly integral to the economic, social and political lives of ordinary people, with over 2 billion now having access to the Internet and over 5 billion using a mobile phone. In the coming years, Internet access will increase rapidly via mobile technology, with particular growth in emerging markets. Human rights are indivisible and interrelated: the improvement of one right facilitates the advancement of others. The Internet has been called the public space of the 21st century. It has become integrated into the dialogues between human beings, and provides lubrication for the exchange of ideas both personal and political. Ensuring that freedom of expression and privacy rights are protected and advanced in the online world is therefore critically important. However, much of the Internet is owned and operated by private companies, which thereby have thrust upon them an important role in ensuring that the rights of their users are respected. Governments set the framework within which companies are permitted to operate, and can have both legitimate and illegitimate interests in censoring content on the Internet and in subjecting users to different levels of surveillance. It is in this context that they make requests of companies which can negatively impact the freedom of expression and privacy rights of their users. This is the crucial issue of Internet governance.

How can human rights serve as a foundation for global Internet governance structure?

The work done by Prof. John Ruggie in developing a human rights framework for business together with the excellent findings of Frank La Rue on Freedom of Expression and Privacy, both based on the UN International Declaration of Human Rights, provide a sound orientation for governance of the Internet as a free, global and neutral information and communication instrument with minimal national restrictions whilst maintaining incentives to allow creative development. The human right to free expression and access to information lie at the basis of how the Internet is structured and of the empowerment that it has given to peoples all over the world.

Why do most users care so little about the technical architecture and governance structure of the Internet?

There are probably a number of factors – for most users without a technical background it's difficult to understand, and because the interface is user friendly you don't need to understand it to use the technology. There hasn't been a lot of focus so far in raising the awareness of users about the importance of these technical issues, for instance security of personal data – this needs to change. In relation to governance of the Internet – up to now only insiders and those who have studied the Internet, its structure and impact, and the related issues of accountability and responsibility have even realised that the solution to the governance issues will ultimately affect every one of us. Finding the right balance between the need to protect states (security issues) and individuals (from abusive material and fraud) while not restricting the greatest level of free use and access is a major challenge currently being debated by the industry and by individual governments as well as intergovernmental groupings, such as the Council of Europe and the European Commission.

What can we do to raise awareness for the value of a multi-stakeholder governance approach?

There is a need to clearly articulate and describe the value of multi-stakeholder activities. The concept is that representatives from different sectors of society are brought together to reflect on problems and to work on solutions which are compromises reconciling the views and aspirations of these constituencies. Multi-stakeholder governance has been integral to the success of the Internet (e.g. for innovation, rapid development and deployment of technology, economic rationale). This is largely because of the important role played by the private sector and the need for state actors to become involved for at least a minimum level of regulation. Further affected parties such as the investing community and human rights groups need to be brought into the dialogue so that they bring forward constructive arguments regarding how problems can be solved in the wider interest of society, rather than in supporting the interests of the private sector or governments on their own. By contrast, solutions which ignore a comprehensive approach need to be shown as unsustainable in the medium term, as they will not have the consensus of impacted citizens.

Is there an alternative to the multi-stakeholder model?

The multi-stakeholder model has been demonstrated to have distinct advantages in creating consensus. It is a form of collective action now favoured as a way of finding solutions to many socially based problems. It is aligned to democratic thinking and is therefore less favoured in autocratic regimes where dictates by the state is the favoured mechanism for managing the Internet. The danger with state regulation - the idea that the state knows best what is good for us - is that it will stifle development and in any case will always be behind the changes which are continually moving the Internet into new areas.

How could a future global Internet governance structure look like in a best/worst case scenario and how might that impact human rights?

The worst case can be seen in autocratic regimes where users are never free from fear that their communications will be intercepted and censored or that they themselves will be fined and/or imprisoned, in direct contradiction of human rights principles. However, governments in the West also call for greater control over users and content placed on the Internet without regard to proportionality or to the dangers of making the intermediary liable for content. These tendencies need to be opposed otherwise regulations and their enforcement will lead ICT companies to apply self-censorship methods to avoid liability. The best case is not one of wholesale freedom from all regulation, but a regime of light regulation which has resulted from a careful consultation process with both users and ICT companies. Special interests of individual groupings, such as the music industry, have important commercial concerns which need to be balanced against the needs of the majority of users.

Sherry Basta
Sebastian Haselbeck
Sherry Basta
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