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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 14:04 GMT
Internet bill of rights proposed
By Darren Waters
Technology editor, BBC News website, Athens

Internet users in Tibet
The proposal must be meaningful to people around the world
A bill of rights for the internet age has been proposed at a United Nations' conference in Athens.

The bill would update and restate rights that have been enshrined for centuries, said Robin Gross of civil liberties group IP Justice.

The proposal was made at the Internet Governance Forum, at which the future of the net is being discussed.

"The rights we have enjoyed in the traditional age must move with us to the digital age," said Ms Gross.

Online respect

An internet bill of rights has been proposed many times in the last two decades but few concrete steps to enshrine such a bill have been taken.

Professor Stefano Rodota, former head of the Council of European Data Protection Agencies, and a leading campaigner for a bill of rights said it was needed because the net was a "place of conflict".

We need a global framework on these issues. There is a diversity of viewpoints.
Robin Gross
IP Justice

"The internet is the widest public space in the history of mankind. It must remain the place to give citizenship and democracy new opportunities," he said.

He said offline rights should be respected online.

"Only this kind of bill of rights could provide a framework making companies and citizens free," he added.

The issue of who would ratify any bill drawn up and what exact rights the bill should seek to protect are still under discussion.

Professor Rodota said the bill must be created from the bottom up, by individual users, rather than top down from government.

He said: "The internet bill of rights can not be the product of foreign ministers drafting in security to be introduced to a body like the UN for final approval."

Starting point

Ms Gross said rights issues on the net were "transnational".

"It means we have to work together - we can't work in our own individual national legislatures.

"We need a global framework on these issues. There is a diversity of viewpoints.

The IGF summit
An internet bill of rights has been proposed many times

"There are some countries that don't respect free speech and privacy rights - and don't want to. How can we involve them?"

Critics of the proposed bill say it would not be binding for any governments, companies and individuals.

They also say that there are enough existing rights frameworks, including the universal declaration of human rights.

Ms Gross said the universal declaration was a starting point.

The internet was born from chaos and is trying, retrospectively, to organize itself
Elson Silva, Brazil

She said: "We need to look at it within the context of the internet and take it further - how does it apply to the internet, how can we make these rights meaningful to people in China and Asia and the US? Can they use these rights?"

The backers of the bill hope that the organisers of the IGF in Athens will make the proposal an aim of the forum as it moves through its five-year process, starting with another gathering in Rio next year.

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