Communication Rights Illustrated: Pen Pals Past the Hill

A big reason the Data Roads Foundation needs to exist is that technology and enterprise need to implement and support basic human communication rights, with guidance from regular people. These rights are partially defined in the US Constitution, its First Amendment, Articles 12 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and Articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These rights include individual freedom of expression (i.e. a right to public data), a right to privacy (i.e. personal financial and health communications), and a right to anonymity as protection from reprisal (i.e. unpopular public speech and whistleblowing).

These rights are such a fundamental basis of human law and governance that they override laws meant to protect against the harms caused by malicious communications, such as terrorist networks and personal threats. Just governments realize there are better ways to protect our fellow citizens and detect harms than to trample on individual freedoms — public anonymous speech reveals wrongs so they can be corrected, and trustworthy private exchanges deepen civil relationships. Denying these rights for illusory claims of “added security” just make everyone worse off. No government or representative has any monopoly on defining “right” or “wrong” for all humans in all times, so these communication rights are necessary to discuss and refine these definitions among equal peers.

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