Final Presentation, Course "Cyberspace and International Relations", Ph.D. in Politics, Human Rights and Sustainability, SSSUP, Pisa, 12/06/2014.



What are Human Rights?

“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings.”
- They are universal and inalienable.
- They are independent and indivisible.
- They are equal and non-discriminatory.
They entail both rights and duties and this means that States should not only refrain from human rights abuses, but also protect them and fulfill them, namely take also positive actions.

(OHCHR, United Nations)


Human Rights and State Sovereignty

Human rights are standards set out to delineate state behavior.
They are entitlements that states should not only not violate, but protect and encourage.

Thus, new human rights clash with some traditional State functions, i.e. security, preservation of order.


Expansion vs. Inflation

Today, we witness the birth of new human rights, born out of the new realities.
The Right to Internet Access, the Right to Privacy and the Right to be Forgotten can be given as examples of such newly formulated rights or rights that have acquired new meanings.
However, all these can also exemplify the “human rights inflation”/ “the devaluation of human rights”;
They are also widely connected to Cyberspace, to the new Digital Era we live in.



The Right to Internet Access

Milestone Events.

The EU declared access to Internet as a universal service in its Directive 2002/22/EC that “obliges MS to ensure that requests for connection at a fixed location to the public telephone network are fulfilled.”

In 2010 Finland becomes the first country in the world to introduce the legal right to broadband (now more than 100 countries).
In 2013 the German Federal Court of Justice “granted compensation to a plaintiff who was disconnected from accessing Internet between December 2008 and February 2009 due to the service provider’s failure to provide connectivity.” “The Court ruled that access to Internet had already become of central importance for individuals.”
A BBC World Service of 2009 and 2010 showed that 79% of the respondents in the 26 countries think that access to Internet should be a fundamental right.


Key Questions.

First and foremost: should it be a right at all?
Maybe it is more of an “enabler” of other rights, as suggested by UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue in 2011?
How to discern the blurred lines between technology, rights and politics?
The Arab Spring and Erdogan’s actions against Twitter underlined Internet’s role as an accessible tool for political dissent and as a corrective of political power.
But at the same time Internet expands enormously the information circulating in the cyberspace, an instrument to attack political opponents, to spread ideologies of hatred.
For example: the issue of “internet trolls” that serve manipulate public opinion to serve particular purposes.


Right to Privacy

Milestone Events.

It is not a new right but one that requires new reading; now there is nowhere to hide.
2012 USA v. Jones: Judge Sotomayor argued that “It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

The Case of Edward Snowden and its repercussions.
2013 UNGA Resolution “affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy” and warns against “unlawful or arbitrary surveillance”.
In April 2014 ECJ rejects the Data Retention Directive on the grounds it violates the right to privacy and the protection of personal data.


Key Issues.

In the digital era who and how is determined the border between our privacy and the good of others?
As a main clash of rights here we can identify Right to Privacy v. the Right to Security, respectively Liberty vs. Control: as President Obama said one cannot have 100% security and 100 % at the same time. He suggested a “right balance”.
Is there a hierarchy of rights? Which right gets priority: the right of a person suspected of criminal activity (like the case of Jones) or the right of each of us to receive state protection, to live a secure life?
We can also mention the constant conflict between Right to internet (expression, opinion), Privacy and Hate Speech.

Example: the case of Donald Sterling – “What about his right to privacy?” What about the feeling of trust between human beings?


The Right to be Forgotten

Milestone Events.

It can be seen as a continuation of the Right to Privacy.
In May 2014 the ECJ ruled that Google must modify the display of search results at the request of ordinary citizens (the case was brought by a man who claimed that putting an auction for his repossessed home was violating his privacy).
Google now offers a Request form that can be filled by citizens of the 28 MS+Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
Since the publication of the form, Google has received more than 12 000 requests.

These are the most common reasons: removal of material about a fraud; removal of information about arrests for violent or serious crime; removal of information about child pornography arrests.


Key Issues.

It is not only a legal matter, but also a moral and ethical one;
A possible main clash here is Right to be Forgotten vs. the Right to Know: Shouldn’t we all benefit from advanced technologies to feel more secure, to feel more restrained? Isn’t cyberspace also a corrective of our own personal actions?
Who will decide whose form will be approved? How do we distinguish the bankrupt man who was feeling ashamed from a person selling child po rnography?



The progress of technology creates a new niche for human rights.
However, this adds more fuel to old debates about:
- the number and scope of human rights;
- the difference between legal and moral rights;
- the difficulties of remaining democratic in a globalizing world of many dangers;
- the danger of Balkanization of the cyberspace;
- the clashes between political interests and legal constitutional interpretations.


The Cyberspace is the space of blurred lines:
- Between the right to freedom of expression and the right to be protected against hate speech;
- Between the right to political opinion and your duties of a citizen of a state;
- Between the right to be forgotten (and possibly also forgiven) and the right to know, to be informed, to feel secure;
- Between the right to privacy and the duty to succumb part of privacy for security and the common good of a society you are living in.





- OHCHR (2014). What are human rights?
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Human Rights.
- BBC (2010). Finland makes broadband a 'legal right' .
- UN Human Rights Council (May 2011). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue.
- Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe (2014). The right to Internet access.
- UNGA (2013). The right to privacy in the digital age.
- Business Insider (2013). The Best Hope Left For Americans' Privacy Is This 2012 Supreme Court Opinion;
- Court of Justice of the European Union PRESS RELEASE No 54/14. The Court of Justice declares the Data Retention Directive to be invalid.
- Eurozine (2014). The European Union's fight for digital rights.
- BBC News Europe (2014). EU court backs 'right to be forgotten' in Google case.
- Deutsche Welle (2014). Google's right to forget request poses challenges.
- The Independent (2014). The ‘right to be forgotten’ is also a licence to rewrite history – and for that reason it must be opposed.
- Business Insider (2013). Experts Destroy Obama's Argument That Americans Must Sacrifice Privacy For Security.