There are two broad challenges regarding human rights and use of the Internet which emerge from the discussion in this paper, namely:
- How do we as a society achieve an appropriate balance between competing rights in an online environment?
- What steps should be taken to address discrimination in terms of the ability of certain groups to access (and safely utilise) the Internet?
10.1 Addressing discrimination in terms of access to (and use of) the Internet
The growing importance of the Internet to all aspects of life (including delivery of services by business and government) means that the ‘digital divide’ between those with effective access to the Internet and those without limits the latter group’s ability to enjoy a range of human rights. In order to effectively address this gap in enjoyment of rights (particularly the right to freedom of expression and information), consideration should be given to the following:
(a) What groups in Australia are affected by the ‘digital divide’?
(b) To what extent does this impact on their enjoyment of rights?
(c) What measures should be taken to address the difficulties that the following groups may experience in accessing the Internet:
(i) people with disability
(ii) older Australians
(iii) Indigenous Australians
(iv) Australians living in remote or rural areas?
(d) To what extent would the ‘digital divide’ be addressed by ensuring access for all Australians to Internet facilities? How relevant are issues such as digital literacy and cyber-crime to the effective enjoyment of rights through the Internet for these groups?
10.2 Balancing rights online
A key challenge in terms of ensuring that individuals’ rights are protected online is achieving an appropriate balance between protecting the right to freedom of opinion and expression in cyberspace, and protecting people from online bullying, discrimination and harassment which breaches their rights under the ICCPR. The types of issues which need to be explored include:
(a) How prevalent is online hate speech (i.e. racial vilification, hate speech against women, LGBTI people) - is it only a small minority who posts this extreme content, or is there a wider problem?
(b) Are online hate speech, discrimination and verbal abuse different to hate speech, discrimination and verbal abuse that occur in the offline world - does the potential reach and permanency of internet content change the impacts of these types of behaviours?
(c) Are (reactive) legislative measures, rendering behaviour unlawful or criminal, an appropriate (and/or effective) way of achieving a balance between the competing rights in an online environment?
(d) For the purposes of the application of anti-discrimination laws, what should be considered a ‘public’ vs. a ‘private’ space in the online world?
(e) To what extent are (preventative) educative measures an effective way of addressing online hate speech and discrimination?
(f) What type of laws, polices and/or practices do we need to create safe online environments for children, to ensure that they enjoy their rights in cyberspace (including the right to freedom of expression and to information)?