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 2021, the digital population consists of nearly five billion people.(1) In Africa, the number of recorded internet users increased four-fold between 2011 and 2021, going from fewer than 140 million people to over 600 million in just ten years.(2) The internet has revolutionised the free flow of information by offering anyone with an internet connection the ability to gather and share information and ideas.(3) This had a profound effect on the exercise and the protection of the triad of information rights, namely the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information.
The UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 2016 Resolution 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. The Resolution also affirmed that these rights are advanced and exercised online, they deserve the same protections as when they are advanced offline.
Unfortunately, despite the internet’s potential as a tool for democratic empowerment, the rights of internet users globally are subject to a wide range of challenges, threats, restrictions, and violations, at the hands of both state and non-state actors.
There is no shortage of obstacles to achieving the full capacity of the internet and digital technology to be platforms where human rights can be protected, respected, promoted, and progressively realised. Fortunately, in many instances, digital rights advocates, activists and litigators have developed effective responses to oppressive regulations and restrictions on online rights, 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 highlights expected developments moving forward.