What does the standardization of web protocols have to do with human rights? It’s a reasonable question; after all, web protocols are technological and sophisticated, while human rights by nature, are are fundamental and human. Still, when you consider the political right of freedom of expression and the expressive power of the internet, the query starts to take on real meaning.
At a summit meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) earlier this year, the question of human rights and standard internet protocols was brought to the fore. One of the proposals under consideration was the creation of a new subcommittee named the “Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group” (HRPC). The group, which is still in the initial review stage for IETF, would focus on if and how the freedoms of speech and association should inform the development of internet protocols and standards. An abstract of the proposal, which is available on IETF’s website, describes the HRPC agenda:
Work has been done on privacy issues that should be considered when creating an Internet protocol. This draft suggests that similar considerations may apply for other human rights such as freedom of expression or freedom of association. A proposal is made for work in the IRTF researching the possible connections between human rights and Internet standards and protocols. The goal is to create an informational RFC concerning human rights protocol considerations.
Given that internet protocols and standards are the “gatekeeping” technologies of the web and that the web is the world’s most preeminent tool of mass communication, it is appropriate that there be a conversation regarding the confluence of open standards and freedom of expression. You can follow the progress of the HRPC proposal using IETF’s Datatracker tool. If you are interested in participating in the conversation of open standards, leave a comment or send us a message.
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