Our vision for a free and open internet

cc licensed flickr user luckey_sun

The human right to privacy is enshrined the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and digital privacy is an integral part of the human right to privacy. Privacy involves anonymity (the right to communicate without attribution), and secrecy (the right to communicate with others without being listened to or watched by another). Both these ideas impact our ability to live free and full lives in the digital world. The extent to which they are respected in our lives online also has an impact on our democracy more generally.

A democratic society will always involve some kind of negotiation between the interests of individual privacy and the need to protect people’s safety. Digital Rights Watch strives to participate in public debates about the nature of privacy using a human rights lens. That is, our starting point is that government incursions on digital privacy need to be transparently justified and limited to only what is manifestly necessary. People have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, and policy should extend the benefit of the doubt to the public, rather than adopt a default position that the presumption of innocence does not apply. Corporations also need to be honest about how they collect, store and use personal information, and avoid putting themselves in positions where they abuse customer trust by breaching personal privacy.

Regulating technology in the twenty-first century requires we have an approach to government and law-making that is modern and responsive. We need to have properly resourced oversight bodies that understand the direction technology is taking and can effectively advocate to protect the rights of citizens. We need to make use of the expertise of civil society and universities to make sure policies and laws about digital technology are up to date and informed by best practice.

We also need institutions and processes that are able to keep the public informed about how governments are using technology. Most obviously, this includes keeping a watchful eye over surveillance activities by executive bodies. But it also requires us to consider how other government negotiations around trade will have an affect on the digital lives of Australians. We want decision makers and regulators to engage with the community to get the balance right between freedom and security.

The internet has heralded an explosion of human creativity and collaboration. This offers an unprecedented chance for people all over the world to be exposed a diverse range of writing, art, music and video. It is important that this kind of innovation and creativity is nurtured. Fair access is about protecting the rights of people to engage with this content in a way that also respects the rights of creators or rights-holders.

At present, copyright laws are very powerful, and have started to impact the freedom and openness of the internet. We understand rights-holders need to have their rights protected, but we think this should be a fair exchange and should not be used as a justification for placing onerous regulatory burdens on the internet. We believe that copyright laws need to be updated to reflect advancement in digital technology and strike a fair balance between users and rights-holders.

The internet has facilitated a form of democratisation of broadcasting and public engagement that has great potential. But this is only possible if we have protections in place for speech to be free. We need to find ways to encourage the growth of platforms and forums for Australians to express themselves and collaborate online.

Freedom of speech also means that the voices of already marginalised people are not silenced through fear of abuse and harassment. With the rise of social media, self-publishing, blogs and other accessible media, there are new and complex issues about who bears responsibility for regulating speech online. We must ensure that digital platforms are designed in ways that promote human rights, and that there are obligations for corporations to protect vulnerable people in their terms of service, the way their rules are enforced, and the technical design of their systems.

Above all, decisions about which elements of speech are acceptable need to be made in a way that is fair and accountable, to avoid censorship. This is a growing and developing area and getting it right will involve long term dialogue between government, corporations and civil society.