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The Politics of Digital (Human) Rights  

Ben Wagner, Andy Sanchez, Marie-Therese Sekwenz, Sofie Dideriksen, and Dave Murray-Rust

Basic human rights, like freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and privacy, are being radically transformed by new technologies. The manifestation of these rights in online spaces is known as “digital rights,” which can be impeded or empowered through the design, governance, and litigation of emerging technologies. Design defines how people encounter the digital world. Some design choices can exploit the right to privacy by commodifying attention through tactics that keep users addicted to maximize profitability; similar design mechanisms and vulnerabilities have facilitated the abuse of journalists and human rights advocates across the globe. But design can also empower human rights, providing novel tools of resistance, accountability, and accessibility, as well as the inclusion of previously underserved voices in the development process. The new capabilities offered by these technologies often transcend political boundaries, presenting complex challenges for meaningful governance and regulation. To address these challenges, collaborations like the Internet Governance Forum and NETmundial have brought together stakeholders from governments, nonprofits, industry, and academia, with efforts to address digital rights like universal internet access. Concurrently, economic forces and international trade negotiations can have substantial impacts on digital rights, with attempts to enforce steeper restrictions on intellectual property. Private actors have also fought to ensure their digital rights through litigation. In Europe, landmark cases have reshaped the international management of data and privacy. In India, indefinite shutdowns of the internet by the government were found to be unconstitutional, establishing online accessibility as a fundamental human right, intimately tied with the right to assembly. And in Africa, litigation has helped ensure freedom of speech and of the press, rights that may affect more individualsas digital technologies continue to shape media. These three spheres—design, diplomacy, and law—illustrate the complexity and ongoing debate to define, protect, and communicate digital rights.

Article

Utilitarianism and International Ethics  

Gerard Elfstrom

Utilitarianism is inextricably linked to international ethics. The roots of the principle of utility can be traced to the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was employed by thinkers such as David Hume. However, Jeremy Bentham first formulated utilitarianism in detail and carefully studied its implications. According to Bentham, happiness is a condition in which an individual enjoys more pleasure than pain. Because utilitarianism is focused on the welfare of the individual, state boundaries are of little consequence. Its reach is inherently global. There are different varieties of utilitarianism. What sets them apart from other ethical theories is their stipulation that whatever is of value should be maximized for all and whatever of disvalue should be minimized for all. For Bentham, pleasure is the ultimate value. Later, John Stuart Mill distinguished between higher and lower pleasures and argued that higher pleasures should be given greater weight. In the 20th century, authors such as R. M. Hare determined that maximal satisfaction of preferences is the value to be sought. The utilitarian emphasis on maximization of value and its choice of values have generated much criticism from those who espoused human rights theories, such as John Rawls and those influenced by his work. At present, the scholarly literature dealing with issues related to international ethics mostly comes from those who are committed to human rights theory or who are committed to equality of outcomes for human beings.