Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Civil Liberties Protection In Cyberspace

Protection of civil liberties in cyberspace is an area that has been ignored for long. Even international organisations like United Nations have not taken many steps in this crucial direction. This has also resulted in a limited growth of human rights protection in cyberspace in both public international law as well as private international law.

When totalitarian and orwellian states started blocking access to Internet altogether through mechanisms like Internet kill switch (IKS), Internet censorship, websites blocking, blocking of social media websites, etc, United Nations decided to step in. UN declared that access to Internet is basic human right.

Through a UN’s May 2011 report on freedom of expression on the internet, UN reminded parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that they must uphold their obligation under Article 19 of that Covenant. Article 19 mandates that any limitation on the right to freedom of expression has to pass a three-part cumulative test that is designed to ensure the limitations are done in the least restrictive way and reflect a clear national security threat. Although existing principles of international law apply online, just as they do offline, yet states are not following this norm in reality.

Thus, this declaration of UN has provided only a very limited standing to individuals and organisations to challenge actions of states that violate civil liberties protection in cyberspace. Further, although this declaration of UN may bring some respite in the regime of public international law yet private international law is still untouched and protected from this declaration.

States are still engaging in endemic e-surveillance activities world over. Even worst is the fact that they are actively enacting laws that goes against the very concept of civil liberties protection in cyberspace. Civil liberties like privacy rights, data security, data protection, speech and expression, etc are at grave risks in such circumstances. Till UN comes up with an international legal framework in this regard that can harmonise laws across the world not much can be expected from individual states.

An international cyber law treaty must be formulated of which the states should become parties and signatories. Civil liberties protection in cyberspace cannot be achieved till rights and obligations of various nations are demarcated in such treaty. Till then nations would keep on indulging in civil liberties violations in cyberspace.