Law in the Internet Society

Creating a Network for Development

The Hierarchy of Rights

While today, there remain few, if any countries that would overtly deny the existence and primacy of human rights, there has been considerable debate within and between these countries concerning the lines of division, and correspondingly, the priority of allocation of support or even recognition to such rights. This debate has resulted in the expression of primary rights as opposed to secondary rights, or negative rights, as opposed to positive rights, or the controversial generational divide of human rights. As a result of this fine-sliced human rights pie, countries have chosen to pick and choose their bouquet of representative rights and corresponding liberties and freedoms to support and champion, as if the rights of people were meant to compete like warring football teams. (For a discussion concerning the issues involved in creating a common rights discourse, see here). A common example of this division is the distinction between countries that place emphasis on civil and political rights as opposed to those which prioritise economic, social and cultural rights. The roots of this distinction run deep, but may at least be traced back to the generational distinction between human rights. First generation human rights deal with liberty and participation in human life. These rights relate to freedom of speech, expression and religion (amongst others). Second-generation human rights deal with equality and living conditions. They relate to access to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, education and health. Much has been made of this distinction between first generation and second generation human rights. It has been stated that the only effective manner to ensure access to both is to protect the primacy of first generation rights, for without those, opportunities for access to second generation rights are directly affected. It may be argued with equal efficacy that the lack of access to basic food, clothing, shelter and health directly affects access to civil and political liberties at the most basic, physiological level, while the lack of access to education affects the capacity to even argue a claim towards first generation rights. On these grounds as well as others, the debate over first and second generation rights has continued, with lines often drawn across geographical, economic and ideological boundaries in preference of one over the other.

Information Distribution in the Internet Medium and the Rights Discourse

In a way, the discourse over information distribution in the internet medium has been shaped by similar boundaries. From the perspective of first generation rights, issues concerning information distribution over the network cover the civil and political liberties protected by the internet medium and the need to protect against threats to the same. From the perspective of second generation rights, however, the discourse around information distribution through the internet has yet to develop. There is a relative lack of focus on issues concerning the use of this medium for the creation of facilities supporting access to second generation rights.

Second Generation Rights and the Network

The purpose of this discussion is to examine the manner in which information distribution over the network may support those claims created by second generation rights. There is a need to create discourse around information distribution from the perspective of its relationship to second generation rights. It cannot be denied that information distribution requires the support of first generation rights in order to function effectively. However, as has been noted earlier, this is more of a function of the strong interrelationship between these two categories rather than any limited dependencies of one category upon the other. In real terms, the question sought to be addressed here is the manner in which information distribution over the network may serve to address those sets of claims and necessities conveniently encompassed by the term ‘development’. Are there means by which the efficient and transparent creation and dispersal of information may directly address fundamental needs such as the need for shelter, food, health and education?

It is my assertion that such means do exist. However, in the absence of real discourse on the development of such means, they remain little more than a secondary consideration in the rights discourse concerning information distribution, a stepchild to the discourse concerning civil liberties on the internet.

Network Support for Second-Generation Rights: The Current Scenario

1.Microfinance Support

The use of ICT in increasing microfinance support services has improved rural access to finance in areas from Uganda, through Latin America to India through the utilisation of cost-effective smart cards, fingerprint recognition technology and ATMs. In addition to mere infrastructural support, these systems allow for a faster, more efficient financing process for small loans by cutting down layers of red tape.

2.Healthcare-information Support

Through the use of ICT, medical professionals in rural areas in Uganda and Peru are able to confer on medical problems in real-time, as well as set up faster systems of supply procurement.


Under the Akshaganga process in India, a small entrepreneurial setup established a business model to enhance the efficiency of the Indian dairy industry at the grassroots level. The automated system allows for milk to be sent to resale centres more quickly, preventing spoilage, increases transparency through the use of digital measurement tools and receipts and allows farmers to be paid immediately, as opposed to days after the final sale.

4.Price and Information Transparency and its Role in Livelihood Support

The E-Choupal system in India eliminates dependence on traders, who act as purchasing agents for buyers at a local, government-mandated marketplace, called a mandi. Under the mandi system, farmers had only an approximate idea of price trends and had to accept the price offered them at auctions on the day that they bring their grain to the mandi. As a result, traders were well positioned to exploit both farmers and buyers through practices that sustain system-wide inefficiencies. The E-Choupal system allows farmers to utilise information distribution systems such as the internet to access daily closing prices in mandis, allowing them to demand the prevailing market price as opposed to a government mandated, often undervalued mandi price.

5.Knowledge Support

The existence of such systems shows that people are examining the manner in which enhanced information distribution could benefit development efforts. However, there have been a number of situations where promises to create development through enhanced information systems has resulted in little more than development sops for big IT companies. It is situations like these that create an atmosphere of skepticism and mistrust concerning information systems amongst those who stand to gain from them. The only way to effectively counter this mistrust is to demonstrate models of success, in which information distribution has been used effectively to promote development.

-- RohanGeorge - 03 Jan 2009

  • Maybe something is at stake in this "generations of rights" concept, but probably not. The result of using it here is that you get to make a list of things computers can do that are good for people. That's not enough, in my judgment, for a compelling essay, because the more your reader knows about the subjet the more likely she is not to find anything new to think about. An excellent essay for us has the opposite property. I'd rework to lose the overhead of the human rights categories, and go straight to the thesis, whatever it is.



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r2 - 09 Feb 2009 - 16:17:39 - EbenMoglen
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