Human Rights for the Information Society

By Cees J. Hamelink - 2003

This chapter proposes to explore how “informational developments” interact with the societies in which they take place. These developments refer to the growing significance of information products (such as news, advertising, entertainment and scientific data) and information services (such as those provided by the World Wide Web); the increasing volumes of information generated, collected, stored and made available; the essential role of information technology as the backbone of many social services and as the engine of economic productivity; and the input of information processing into transactions in trading and finance. The interactions between informational developments and societies have technological, cultural, political and economic dimensions, for which the international community has established human rights standards. These standards are analysed in the chapter.

The major problem with these standards is the lack of implementation. No effective mechanisms have been established to deal with all the obstacles that hamper the realization of human rights in the field of informational developments. Moreover, current human rights pro-visions focus exclusively on “information” and ignore “communication”. No human rights standard has been adopted to address communication as an interactive process. Communication tends to be seen as the “transfer of messages”. This omission could be remedied by the adoption—as part of the existing human rights standards—of the “human right to communicate”. This right is perceived by its protagonists as more fundamental than the information rights presently accorded by international law. The essence of this right would be based on the observation that communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. The right to communicate should constitute the core of any democratic system.

The chapter concludes by stating that the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) could remind the international community of all that has been achieved already and stress the importance to seriously identify and remove major obstacles to the urgently needed implementation of existing human rights provisions. WSIS could also point out that the essential omission in “human rights for the information society” is the lack of human rights standards for communication as an interactive process. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan stated the need for the right to communicate very explicitly in his message on World Telecommunication Day (17 May 2003) as he reminded the international community that there were millions of people in the poorest countries who were still excluded from the “right to communicate”, which was increasingly seen as a fundamental human right.

In Communicating in the Information Society, edited by Bruce Girard and Seán Ó Siochrú. UNRISD (2003). PDF.

By Cees J. Hamelink| 2003
Categories:  Debate


Communication rights enable all people everywhere to express themselves individually and collectively by all means of communication. They are vital to full participation in society and are, therefore, universal human rights belonging to every man, woman, and child.


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