Module 1: General Overview of Trends in Digital Rights Globally and Expected Developments
Over the last decade, the number of internet users worldwide has more than doubled. As of January 2020, the digital population consists of 4.54 billion users.(1) In Africa, the number of internet users grew from 110.9 million to 522.81 million between 2010 and 2019.(2) The internet has undeniably revolutionised the free flow of information between individuals by offering anyone with an internet connection the ability to gather and share information and ideas.(3) This has had a profound effect on the exercise and the protection of the triad of information rights, which includes the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression and the right to access information. The 2016 Resolution of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet confirmed that these rights, in turn, enable a full array of other fundamental rights. When these rights are advanced and exercised online, they deserve the same protections as when they are advanced offline.
Unfortunately, and despite the capabilities of the internet to provide opportunities and fulfil an essential role as a tool for democratic empowerment, it is regularly undermined by authoritarian ideals. Clear trends have emerged globally, with all internet users facing, to varying degrees, similar opportunities, challenges, threats and human rights violations.
The tensions between human rights and freedoms, and the rise in restrictions of access to online spaces, will continue. With increased political polarisation and the seemingly limitless powers of non-state actors, it will be a challenge to restore the internet to a dynamic environment, which is shaped by innovation and where there are lasting possibilities for realising human potential and capacity. Ultimately, the goal is the protection and development of online spaces where human rights can be protected, respected and promoted. Fortunately, there are, in many instances, effective responses to oppressive regulations, and there is a notable rise in innovative solutions challenging these problems. This module touches on recent developments relating to the triad of information rights, and it highlights expected developments moving forward.