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Digital Rights: Milestones for an uncertain future


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Human rights are a fundamental basis for a society that respects all human beings equally; at least, they are a guide to point out blatant violations of these liberties. On the 10th of December 1948, the United Nations encouraged the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document has been, since then, a moral, ethical and legal framework for countries and courts around the world to ensure a decent and dignified living for the inhabitants of this planet.


Nobody questions the need for such a manuscript to exist. We are, therefore, we have human rights, and we want everybody to have them – this is why governments are called out when they do not respect them. 


However, a new paradigm has flourished in these past years, for we’ve created a new reality that surpasses the physical world: the digital reality, a difficult to regulate landscape in which companies and actions go beyond borders. We’re now living in a ecosystem in which the real and digital worlds are mixed; we learn online, communicate with our beloved ones through the internet, we use e-shopping and video calls, we need online banking for our day to day lives and Google Maps to find that shop we’ve passed by a thousands of times, but we cannot remember exactly where it is. The online world is a place we roam as much as the physical streets we cross every day. 


Even if we’ve already made apps, social media channels and passwords inseparable parts of our lives, and with very clear human rights, the digital rights domain (that list of liberties that should morally, ethically and legally regulate the online realm) is still some sort of Far West in which he who laughs last, laughs best. Digital rights are pivotal for freedom of speech, safe internet usage and identity consideration, universal and equitable internet access, data protection, anonymity, child and intellectual rights protection. Until now, citizens have been half-unprotected in a world we barely understood but that we were somehow driven to use, as all aspects of life have digitalised exponentially. Our privacy, the collection and usage of data that could be discriminatory or biased, targeting and the creation of big tech monopolies have been issues that we’ve witnessed unfold in front of our eyes without being able to take part in them, as they’ve always seemingly been bigger than us. 


To try to regulate this digital freedoms terrain, there have been many initiatives; one of the last ones being the Spanish Digital Rights Charter, “a set of principles and rights to guide future regulatory projects and the development of public policies to guarantee the protection of individual and collective rights in new digital scenarios”. With the mindset on a humanistic digital transformation, this regulatory document will, in the words of the Spanish Prime Minister, “protect the rights of citizens in the new era of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence”, in which these rights present “new and extremely serious vulnerabilities”. It is the first step to a broader regulation that would have to include more representative groups in its writing, but a valuable stage nevertheless. 


One thing is clear: a transition to a digital revolution is taking place, regulated or not. It is in our future. Who will win the race is a result that only time will tell.