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Q&A: Stanford’s Cuéllar And US diplomat On Human Rights And The Internet

Publication Date: 
February 06, 2012
The Freeman Spogli Institute For International Studies
Adam Gorlick

Professor Mariano Florentino-Cuéllar sat down with Adam Gorlick of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and discussed the cross-section of human rights and open Internet.

As the Internet evolves, people around the world have faster, easier ways to connect. Innovative plans and economic opportunities are being hatched online, but so are ideas that challenge governments. Voices of dissent are amplified by social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, leaving some countries confused about how to balance free expression rights against perceived threats to national security and government stability.

Working with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Eileen Donahoe is trying to make government officials feel more comfortable with online technology. Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, recently brought about 35 diplomats from around the world to Stanford. The group met with academics, Internet developers and technology business leaders to address the questions posed by a free and open Internet.


What does a free and open Internet have to do with global security?

Cuéllar: Some governments lack a commitment to basic rights and the rule of law. Technology can help people respond by raising their voices. They can organize and respond when their own government threatens citizens’ security. Cyber technologies can also empower law enforcement officials, intelligence agencies and armed forces, raising fundamental questions about the role of government and the nature of conflict in the years to come. The Internet is an evolving technology that reflects vulnerability and enormous potential. Societies depend on government and private sector systems that face a variety of threats. For all these reasons, the future of cyberspace is an important security issue at the very center of our agenda at CISAC.


How do you convince governments worried about those threats that open Internet access is ultimately in their best interest?

Cuéllar: If the leaders of a state see it merely as a vehicle for control and stability, then much of the technology we have been discussing will appear profoundly threatening. States seeking to build or maintain lasting institutions capable of meeting the needs of their citizens will tend to take a different approach, focused on the value of the public’s feedback and participation in governance.


What do policymakers need to know and understand before passing regulations?

Cuéllar: The future of cyberspace implicates security, economic development and the protection of civil and political rights – and all of these challenges are deeply interrelated. A country's decision to restrict certain forms of Internet traffic can discourage economic innovation. Internet access in poor communities can lead to new economic opportunities, changing the larger context in which governance and security problems arise. It is crucial to recognize these connections as societies think through the future of cyberspace.