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Human Rights and Information Security

written by: Bruce Tyson•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 11/29/2010

The relationship between human rights and information security is often overlooked as governments, businesses, and individuals work to harden their networks and restrict information in effort to build power or profits. Here we look at human rights and how they affect information security issues.

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    Freedom of Information Laws

    The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (United Nations).

    In response to this decree, many nations passed laws that preserve the rights of their citizens to access information in their societies, focusing specially on the willingness of the government to share information with the governed. In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act of 1966 was passed into law, making sure that people are allowed to discover what their government is doing. This freedom of information led to the government's concern that too much information may become available. In the digital age, when access to information can be particularly threatening, information security claims can be used as a plausible excuse to thwart the human rights of the people.

    To preserve human rights, information security must be moderated, but in an age where technology makes both controlling information and abusing information easier, ensuring that balance is achieved is becoming more difficult.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/JohnManuel

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    The Law and Reality

    Even though many countries have laws in place that guarantee the freedom of information, many continue to suppress the freedom of information in the name of information security.

    Creating conditions where the release of information is delayed, fabricated, destroyed, or sold for exorbitant fees, governments still work to promote their own propaganda while limiting access to information that could cause accountability problems. Laws extending to affect journalism restrict the collection of information by private parties, giving many governments complete control over what their people know.

    As governments sacrifice human rights for information security, many people have become oppressed and uninformed, unable to make qualified decisions about their lives and their world. This oppression is becoming key to the preservation of power by ruling regimes, especially as they become threatened by the availability of information on the Internet.

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    Freedom of Information and the Internet

    Governments around the world are notorious for censoring the Internet, restricting access to online resources in the name of information security, and punishing citizens for what they say online. China, for example, in November 2010, recently sent Cheng Jianping, a Twitter user, to forced re-education camp for a year for posting a tweet that the communist government did not find appropriate.

    The United States government, under the guise of Homeland Security, has shut down more than 70,000 blogs and terminated dozens of ICANN domain names, joining China as one of the world's harshest environments for online speech rights.

    Meanwhile, a renegade Web site called Wikileaks has taken pride in stunning American political leaders by dumping thousands of secret documents concerning the United States' actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, stirring discussion about whether unrestrained freedom of information is worth potentially damaging international relationships and jeopardizing the lives of military personnel.

    Continue to the next page for more on human rights & information security.

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    Striking a Balance: Human Rights & Information SecurityThe world has recognized the right of every human being to free access to unadulterated information. In light of human rights, information security concepts must be moderated to ensure that they are not used as instruments of oppression by governments and manipulation by corporations.
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    Corporate and Government Information Security Interests

    Corporations have gotten into the act where giants like Google and Facebook have harvested enormous amounts of personal information, stimulating much debate as to whether such businesses' interests can be trusted to maintain adequate information security when faced with profit-making opportunities. In some countries, like South Africa, freedom of information laws have began applying to corporate interests, at least those that are involved with government contracts. This leaves the possibility open that governments may unfairly exclude themselves from information freedom while demanding it from other entities.

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    Reconciling Human Rights & Information Security

    The challenge of reconciling human rights and information security is one not easily solved. While humans are recognized to have enough accurate and unbiased information to allow them to make decisions and form opinions, the degree of openness must be balanced with the need to secure confidential and national security information. The concept of information security must adequately preserve the needs of everyone it affects.

    Information security, therefore, must be strong enough to protect some business and governmental data from reaching the public when legitimate concerns are at stake. It also must prevent corporations and governments from monopolizing and manipulating information to their own advantages, to the detriment of the general population.

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    Bansiar, D. (n.d.). Freedom of Information: International Trends and National Security. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from Google Docs:

    Brownlee, J. (2010, July 16). 73,000 Wordpress blogs shut down by U.S. Government . Retrieved July 16, 2010, from

    Jerome, S. (2010, November 26). Homeland Security seizes domain names. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from The Hill:

    Olivarez-Giles, N. (2010, November 19). Twitter CEO tweets reaction to Chinese woman being punished for retweet. Retrieved November 28, 2010, from LA Times:

    United Nations. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved November 27, 2010, from United Nations:

    Whitney, L. (2010, July 15). Report: China shuts down dozens of blogs. Retrieved July 16, 2010, from CNet: