Declaration of Internet Rights: Italy introduces web bill promoting net neutrality

Italy has become the second country in the world to introduce a bill to protect the ‘Internet rights’ of its citizens.

The southern-European country yesterday had a “Declaration of Internet Rights” presented to its parliament that is intended to protect the “liberty, equality, dignity and unique diversity of each individual” while they’re online.

Included in the bill are provisions that promote net neutrality, right to an individual identity, a right to internet access, the ability to access information online, and much more that will please those pushing for a more open web.

The declaration says that these rights need to be preserved to ensure the democratic functioning of institutions as well as to avoid the “predominance of public and private powers that may lead to a society of surveillance, control and social selection.”

“The Internet is an increasingly important space for the self‐organisation of individuals and groups, and it is a vital tool for promoting individual and collective participation in democratic processes as well as substantive equality,” the bill says.

“The principles underpinning this Declaration also take account of the function of the Internet as an economic space that enables innovation, fair competition and growth in a democratic context.”

The Italian ‘Committee on the rights and duties related to the Internet’ accepted the bill of rights on July 28; the first Internet Bill of Rights was passed into law by Brazil, in April 2015.

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The bill recognises that access to the Internet “is a fundamental right of all persons” and that everyone should have the same right of access to what is online. It says that public institutions should take the “necessary measures” to overcome “all forms of digital divide” – whether they are created by gender, economic condition, or disability. There are also provisions which state that everyone has the right to be taught and update the skills needed to use the Internet.

Importantly, for online campaigners, the bill says that net neutrality – a neutral access to the Internet without providers blocking or prioritising certain sites – is a “necessary condition” for the rights of each person.

“Every person has the right that the data he/she transmits and receives over the Internet be not subject to discrimination, restrictions or interference based upon the sender, recipient, type or content of the data, the device used, applications or, in general, the legitimate choices of individuals,” it says.

The move by the Italian politicians was commended by Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web Foundation which said that it is important that the country has decided to take the lead and conduct a collaborative and crowd sourced effort to draft the bill.

“There is a lot to like about this Bill of Rights – it establishes access as a fundamental right, acknowledges the importance of the Internet to democracy, and puts open access to information, knowledge and culture at its heart,” said Renata, from the Foundation.

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Despite the overwhelmingly positive move by Italy, the Web Foundation did have one or two criticisms of the bill.

They said that it “falls short” in protecting anonymity and encryption, as well as data retention clauses being unclear.

“Overall, this is a positive development for the protection of fundamental rights online, but further clarity on some clauses, and information on how the Bill will be enforced must be urgently addressed, so it can achieve its full potential,” said Avila.

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