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Italy Joins Internet Rights ‘Club’

ROME, Sep 3 2015 (IPS) - Italy has finally joined the restricted club of states in the world that have chosen the constitutional path for regulating the Internet – or at least has taken a significant step in that direction – by adopting a Declaration of Internet Rights.

It is now looking to present the Declaration at the Internet Governance Forum scheduled for November in João Pessoa, Brazil.

The drafting process lasted more than one year, which is quick by normal Italian bureaucratic standards, and observers were surprised that it had seen the light of the day given what they says is the backwardness of the country’s digital infrastructures.

Many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level

A number of progressive Italian media hailed the Declaration as of “historical significance” in view of the visibility and prestige that it will give Italy on internet governance issues within the global community.

Unlike other countries, where proposals for Internet Bills of Rights or Declarations have been promoted mainly by scholars, associations, dynamic coalitions, enterprises, or groups of stakeholders, the Declaration’s promoters have stressed that the drafting process was characterised by “peer-to-peer relations between institutions and citizens, so that the whole construction has become horizontal.”

In fact, the Declaration is the outcome of a complex and open multi-stakeholder process, which ended with the direct involvement of Italian citizens through a four-month public consultation on the Internet.

Nevertheless, momentum for the Declaration is closely associated with the figures of Laura Boldrini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and former spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and Stefano Rodotà, an Italian jurist and politician and long-time advocate of a “Magna Carta” for the networked society who headed the committee of experts which drafted the document.

Explaining the contents of the Declaration, Rodotà said that unlike almost other similar initiatives,  the Italian Declaration : “does not contain specific and detailed wording of the different principles and rights already stated by international documents and national constitutions” but attempts to “identify the specific principles and rights of the digital world, by underlining not only their peculiarities but also the way in which they generally contribute to redefining the entire sphere of rights.”

The Declaration covers a wide range of issues, from the “fundamental right to Internet access” and net neutrality to the notion of “informational self-determination”. It also includes provisions on the security, integrity and inviolability of IT systems and domains, mass surveillance, the right to anonymity and the development of digital identity. It also deals with the highly-debated idea of granting online citizens the “right to be forgotten”.

The Declaration is critical of the opacity of the terms of service devised by digital platform operators, who are “required to behave honestly and fairly” and, most of all, give “clear and simple information on how the platform operates.”

Rodotà pointed out that the set of rights recognised in the Declaration “does not guarantee general freedom on the Internet, but specifically aims at preventing the dependency of people from the outside” through, for example, “expropriation of the right to freely develop one’s personality and identity as may happen with the wide and increasing use of algorithms and probabilistic techniques.”

The importance of needs linked to security and the market are taken into consideration but, according to the promoters of the initiative, there cannot be a balance on equal terms between these interests and fundamental rights and freedoms. In particular, “security needs shall not determine the establishment of a society of surveillance, control and social sorting.”

Renata Avila of Guatemala, who heads the “Web We Want” campaign launched by the World Wide Web Foundation, expressed her satisfaction with the section of the Declaration dedicated to net neutrality and free software, but said that it should have had more explicit and stronger recognition of “the right of people to communicate in private and the right to anonymity.”

The next step for the Italian Declaration concerns it status. It is currently simply a political document with no legal value, although Boldrini has said that it will be the subject of a parliamentary “motion” in the coming months.

As the basis for a legally-binding document, it has much in common with national legislation concerning the Internet in Brazil and the Philippines. However, it promoters note that the Italian declaration was created with an international framework in mind.

Its rationale, they say, is that “the many questions related to access and use of the Internet go well beyond national borders because of the very nature of the Internet and therefore call for a coordinated effort at the international level.”

According to the promoters, the main aim of the Declaration is not limited to being a text for the creation of new national legislation, but aims at being a contribution to public debate that points to possible legislative developments at all levels, “from national legislation to international treaties.”

For his part, Rodotà hoped that the Italian Declaration of Internet Rights would serve as an instrument for the “consolidation of a common international debate and of a culture highlighting common dynamics in different legal systems”.

Edited by Phil Harris   

 
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