We need to protect our rights online



New Zealanders deserve the right to a thriving, open Internet which supports economic development, innovation and free speech. The Internet over the last twenty five years has changed everything; from how we communicate, how we buy and sell products and even how we fall in love. Our laws in many respects are trying to play catch-up with the rapid development of the Internet and in some cases have actually harmed its free and open nature.

After debates on NSA mass surveillance, the GCSB’s spying and the unpopular Skynet copyright law passed under urgency that allowed Internet accounts to be terminated for copyright infringement with ministerial approval; it is time to develop positive Internet law to protect our rights online.

I have just launched New Zealand’s first crowdsourced Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill, enhancing our human rights laws for the digital age. It’s time to develop positive, rights-affirming Internet law to protect our human rights online and open Internet. I have proposed a comprehensive bill with 10 ‘Internet Rights and Freedoms’, suggested a new Internet Rights Commissioner to support these rights and suggested a Chief Technology officer role to research and advise on technological innovation and its challenges and opportunities. While I have prepared a bill, I believe Internet law should be written by the Internet community and crowd sourced by its users.  I am looking for your feedback on the Bill and want to hear your ideas on how to protect Internet rights in New Zealand law. My Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill aspires to get ‘the ball rolling’ and promote a public conversation on what positive and future-focused Internet rights law could look like.

My starting point has been the New Zealand Bill of Rights and Human Rights Acts. I have looked for how we can apply offline human rights to the online environment. For example, the right to access the Internet links in with the right to freedom of expression and from discrimination protected under our Bill of Rights and Human Rights Acts. Likewise the right to avoid unreasonable search, surveillance and seizure should be modernised to protect citizens from unreasonable online surveillance, a right not expressly protected under any current human rights laws in New Zealand. I then looked for the gaps where the original drafters couldn’t have envisioned our digital world and suggested new rights, for example the right to use free open source software and encryption technology. The Internet Rights and Freedoms Bill is intended to act as a guardian for human rights in the online environment. The Bill promotes accountability, transparency, equality and free speech; these values lie at the heart of a free, open and thriving Internet.

Online privacy is a critical area to protect in law. Many Kiwis would be surprised to learn privacy isn’t a right in New Zealand. We need to develop law to protect Kiwis’ private data from the risks created by new technology and software in cyberspace. In the digital environment, the right to privacy can be undermined in many ways; through unlawful data sharing, web-tracking, data seizure or surveillance. As technology becomes more pervasive and sophisticated, and Kiwis more aware of their digital footprint, they are increasingly uneasy about their data being profiled, surveyed and captured on the Internet. I believe New Zealand should also progressively amend its privacy laws to keep up with developments in online technology and place better protections around Kiwis’ personal information online.

As an active social media user I find it’s worrying to discover how much of our private data ends up being hoarded online by private companies and the government. One new idea proposed is the right to be forgotten on the Internet. We need to develop ways to enhance privacy protections and to maintain consumers’ confidence and trust in websites and databases that record, track and analyse users’ data, comments and profiles. Private information can be recorded, stored and used almost indefinitely on the Internet, often without the user’s knowledge. The European Parliament has recently passed measures that include the right to be forgotten, which allow users the right to request that selective data be deleted.

Fundamental human rights must be protected in both the online and offline worlds. Online rights are a subject of vigorous and vibrant international debate and the Internet freedom movement is gaining real traction around the world: Brazil recently passed a ground-breaking Internet Bill of Rights, the ‘Marco Civil da Internet,’ the Obama administration has laid a proposal for a Digital Bill of Rights on the table and the Swedish, Phillipine and Dutch governments have also taken steps to protect Internet rights in their domestic law.

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The Internet freedom conversation is also making waves at the United Nations. The Internet Rights and Principles Coalition, hosted by the Internet Governance Forum, has released a Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet – this Charter aims to inspire member states’ future Internet laws and policies, spark an on-going Internet freedom debate and encourage states to protect Internet rights in domestic law.

Nations are taking real action to pass Internet rights laws and it is time for New Zealand to step up to the plate. Global reports reveal that New Zealand is lagging behind when it comes to human rights protection in the digital world. New Zealand’s compliance with the United Nations Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue’s ‘Internet Freedom guidelines’ leaves much to be desired. The report revealed New Zealand needs to improve Internet rights protection in several areas: Internet filtering, user disconnection, online privacy, and access to the Internet.

I am asking Internet users to work with me and develop positive Internet law to protect human rights in both the online and offline world. This is digital democracy in action. The Internet is more than cat photos or just ‘a series of tubes’- it’s ours and it’s important. The Internet is a bridge that forges connections between people, information and ideas: if we want a free and open Internet that supports technological innovation, we need to protect it in law.



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