Would a mandatory Internet content filter breach human rights?

February 25, 2009

I saw a question on Twitter recently (thanks @andrewsayer) asking whether a mandatory Internet filter “infringes on our human right” (sic). This naturally aroused my curiosity, so I consulted the authoritative document on the matter: the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). What I found was interesting, and raised more questions than it answered:

Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Now I’m no lawyer (please consider that your disclaimer), but this makes me wonder about what the hell the Australian Government thinks it’s doing going anywhere near something like this. If I were in Mr. Rudd’s position, knowing about the Article quoted above, I’d avoid the entire idea like the plague. Which leads me to ask: do Mr. Rudd and Senator Conroy know about this Article? If they do, why are they still pursuing this idea? If not, why not? Isn’t this what they have legal departments for?

OK, I should calm down. There are a number of things I don’t know about how all this works. For example, does the Australian Parliament have to ratify the Declaration and encode it into law for it to be binding in Australia? If so, has it done so? From what I’ve been told in the past, Australia has no documents of its own outlining the rights of its citizens, residents and others within its borders. That’s a concern worthy of its own post (or book), but it has some bearing on this question.

It’s also a possibility that just by being a member of the UN, Australia subscribes to the Declaration. I truly hope that’s the case. Indeed, the Australian Human Rights Commission tells us:

Australia has agreed to uphold the human rights standards set out in a number of international treaties and declarations, including ... the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This seems to imply that we have the rights outlined in the UDHR, at least in principle. I won’t be convinced that we have those rights in law until I see the information myself, and I don’t have time or skills to research that right now.

So, lazyweb, here are your questions: what legal rights do Australians have regarding access to information, if any? Would a mandatory internet filter breach those rights?

Would a mandatory Internet content filter breach human rights? - February 25, 2009 - Lucas Wilson-Richter