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Abstract

Against the background of the increased usage of ICTs and their impact on the way humans interact with one another, this Study examines whether we need a new set of norms or additional legal measures to protect the rights of individuals in relation to their activities online. The existing studies focused on the results of the impact that ICTs have on humans and this focus led to an incomplete analysis as they overlooked the origin and the process that caused those impact. To address this point, this Study proposes a human rights-based approach to digital space and examines the content of human rights online by resorting to the flow of digital information from birth to death, namely, “the life cycle of digital information”. To analyze existing gaps in the duties corresponding to the content of rights, the Study looks at the broader environment – referred to as “the digital information ecosystem” –that facilitate the life cycle of digital information and consequently, the exercise of human rights online. Based on these two frameworks to identify gaps relating to the protection of human rights online, the Study focuses on the change in the nature of the impact that ICTs have on the exercise of human rights online and whether those changes call for new substantive legal measures as opposed to procedural measures. Throughout the Study, two main attributes of the digital space that impact the protection of human rights are identified: first, the need to embrace the role of digital information beyond the concept as a mere piece of knowledge and second, the dual functions of the digital information ecosystem that both enables and limits exercise of rights. These attributes lead to the conclusion that we need to contextualize the principles of human rights law, particularly, how they impact the interpretation and application of the right to privacy. Despite interpreting human rights in the context of the digital space, there still exist gaps when it comes to the accountability of non-State actors related to their control over the flow of digital information. The State-centric international law does not establish clear human rights obligations of actors other than States and hence, there is a need to recognize new human rights actors in the digital space. The role of international human rights law to proactively guide the digital industry so that the respective functions, actions and decisions of each actor do not impede or limit our rights. To fulfill this role, we need to move beyond traditional legal doctrines and interpretations applicable to the 19th century and embrace the digital space to understand how the market and the behaviors of individuals drive the law.

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