Internet is a Human Right

The internet is a human right, and everyone should have access.

Sounds far-fetched, we’re used to thinking of human rights as connected to security, equality, freedom; all the big stuff.

But Article 21 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states

Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

A quick search online shows that many countries are putting their public/government services online including;

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • India
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • UK
  • USA

The UN has run a survey (latest data 2012) looking at “e-government”, which evaluates how ready a government is to provide information and services online, and how ready a country is to use those services. A lot depends on the political and economic situation of the country, just compare Somalia and Sweden to see this difference.

The Charter also lists “the right to education” and “the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community”, both of which increasingly have an online dimension. Governments, including local governments, are also seeking citizen participation online for local decision making.

Across Europe internet penetration is high at about 73%. It reaches close to 93% in Netherlands, but that still leaves more than a million people not using the internet. Across the EU it’s a third of the population.

As governments move services online they reduce the offices and physical services at the same time. At what point to governments have a responsibility to make sure online access is available to all? At what point does the drive to rationalise services and put them online start to infringe people’s rights?

I’ve been managing the @i_am_europe twitter account this week, and posting on a digital theme. It’s got me thinking about governments role in digital. A week ago I resisted the idea that governments had a role to play in the digital world – an attitude that probably marks me as one of the “digital elite”. But discussing some of the issues around digital and reading up on the EU plans it makes sense that governments and international bodies take a role in shaping the digital world we live in, making it a fairer place.

You can read more about progress so far on the EU website for the Digital Agenda, from the site it seems that good progress has been made – it’s harder to assess the actions of national governments, which is where citizens might notice a difference.

Of course this doesn’t mean that governments should build and deliver a full suite of online services, but that there is a need for a digital strategy for a country, and a need for international co-operation.

In my digging around the internet I also found out about the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which, according to their website

The purpose of  World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

There is a call to add your local initiative to celebrate this day to the site – so far there’s just one event from Geneva, but there is time to add yours, the date of celebration is 17 May. I’d give you more detail, but to download the “circular letter from the ITU Secretary-General” I’m required to log-in for no good reason. I recall facing the same thing when I wanted to read some of the documents relating to the EU’s digital agenda – so I logged in using a fake identity out of peevishness.

The role of governments/regulatory bodies is about rules, policies and control. The internet world strives for openness and the technology lets us remove communications barriers. In my world people share ideas in 140 characters, there’s a dialogue across social media, books are co-created. Governments and regulatory bodies miss this mindset,  which begs the question; are they fit to lead a Digital Agenda?

Image: Internet, 5 minutes, $1.00 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Digital Feedback

The EU has a digital agenda managed by the European Commission Directorate General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology, who go by the name of DG Connect.

They have a lot on their agenda, but identified 7 areas of focus in 2012

  1. Create a new and stable broadband regulatory environment.
  2. New public digital service infrastructures through Connecting Europe Facility loans
  3. Launch Grand Coalition on Digital Skills and Jobs
  4. Propose EU cyber-security strategy and Directive
  5. Update EU’s Copyright Framework
  6. Accelerate cloud computing through public sector buying power
  7. Launch new electronics industrial strategy – an “Airbus of Chips”

Which all sound like good sensible initiatives that should help citizens of the EU work and live with digital, some of the initiatives may also help business.

And they’d like our input. At least I think that’s what this 1,300 word request is asking. But it’s not input on what they should do, or how they should do it, but on how it should be measured – “what we call internally our “metrics”.

So I tried. You must register with their system, apparently this is an EU rule. Which off-putting and pointless because I have not used my real identity to do so. I did it and then got to the first two questions

The first question, you also got the chance to comment.
The second question – not my real answers.

Part Two invites you to comment on the following subjects;

  • Components & Systems
  • Electronic Communications Networks & Services
  • Excellence in Science
  • Cooperation with European and international partners
  • NET Futures
  • Co-ordination of programmes and policies
  • Media & Data
  • Sustainable & Secure Society
  • Internal Support
  • Task Forces
  • Advisers

Each of which has a number of subsections for a total of 181 subjects. I haven’t read through every subject but the ones I have read are impenetrable, for example this is the vision for “Creativity: Encouraging Innovation”

While I understand each word in that sentence I cannot understand what it means; what outcome is meant, what role DG Connect should play. At the risk of sounding arrogant – if I can’t understand it there must be few who do.

If I wanted feedback on a wide ranging document such as this I would use a process that went where the experts are, and use the tools they use to collect the feedback. The process would look something like this;

1. Go where those people are.
In this case that would be Google+ and Twitter I suspect.

2. Form a group of “gurus”,
10-20 digital experts from around Europe and get them talking about the initiatives, they’ll blog and tweet about it and their audiences will engage… this shouldn’t be hard,  Social Media groups, tech seminars and digital conferences are thick on the ground.

3. Open source the document.
Create a framework/outline on which you want feedback, and put it up on googledocs – where everyone can comment/edit. Guy Kawasaki does this and thousands respond from all over the world.

4. Ask different questions.
Obviously you should measure  your company/team/organisations performance, and probably it’s good to get people’s input to do that in a way that is reasonable and helpful but it’s not in itself a very engaging question. The two big questions that should be crowdsourced are “what is the vision for a Digital Europe?” and “what is the role of the EU bureaucracy in that?” But I suspect they think the know the answer the first question and don’t want to hear that for most of us “not much” is the answer to the second.

I applaud the DG Connect crew for wanting input and feedback, but producing bureacratese and putting it in a walled garden are not the steps to get it from people with high digital knowledge. And the really depressing thing is that my taxes are (indirectly) paying for this – and I don’t get to vote in EU elections.