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Monday 15 June saw the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, a historic document which formed the foundations of democracy, human rights and the supremacy of law for all subsequent centuries, not just for the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, but across the world. Prime Minister, David Cameron, emphasised the relevance of the document to current society, saying: “it falls to us in this generation to restore the reputation of those rights and their critical underpinning of our legal system. It is our duty to safeguard the legacy, the idea, the momentous achievement.” At a time when Mr Cameron is trying to reform current Human Rights laws in response to ‘modern day’ issues, such as terrorism, at Conscious Communications we find ourselves thinking about human rights in relation to the internet.

March of this year marked the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Those of us old enough to have seen the advance of the  World Wide Web from the start will have noticed a marked change in ‘acceptable online behaviour’, which to a large extent has been allowed to flourish, unchecked, thanks to a lack of precedent or relevant laws, making the World Wide Web a difficult place to police.

In recognition of the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the British Library in conjunction with the World Wide Web Foundation, Southbank Centre and British Council has given the public the opportunity to shape a ‘Magna Carta for the Digital Age’; encouraging young people to consider what their Digital Human Rights should be. This is a pertinent question for our modern society, and an important point for young people – who will not have had the chance to experience life before the digital influence – to ponder. School students across the world were invited to create clauses to be added to the Magna Carta for the Digital Age, before the general public voted on which clauses they thought should be included.

Clauses submitted covered issues including whether connectivity is a human right; the importance of freedom of speech and access to information; whether companies can have too much control over how the internet is run; and whether a right to privacy is important in the digital arena. According to the organisers of the Magna Carta for the Digital Age, “the clauses from students are striking: rather than a call for freedom or openness half of the submissions reveal a marked concern about safety and security online”.

Two of the students’ suggested clauses were:

•  The web we want will not let governments restrict our right to information

•  The web we want will be private and not allow the government to see what we do online

Many of the suggested clauses focus on freedom of information while, in stark contrast, others want to prioritise individuals’ privacy online.  So, how do we proceed when the proposed rights oppose each other? It is bound to be difficult to create an exhaustive list of Digital Human Rights which contains no conflicting clauses, especially when the digital arena and associated behaviours are constantly changing at such an alarming rate.

As with the original Magna Carta we expect the Digital Human Rights to be refined on an ongoing basis.

Well done to the British Library et al for raising awareness of the need for these Digital Human Rights, and for publishing a Magna Carta for the Digital Age – setting the conversation off on the right track and encouraging young people to participate.

The top 10 clauses can be seen below, or click here for more information on the selected clauses.

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