The ”Charter of Civil Rights for a Sustainable Knowledge Society” calls for the unhindered and inclusive use of knowledge and information oriented on the principle of sustainability. The challenge of the knowledge society consists in securing the availability of knowledge by keeping the access channels for information open, in order to provide people with a secure basis for action.
The Charter is directed emphatically against the increasing privatisation and commercialisation of knowledge and information. A society, in which the protection of intellectual property transforms knowledge into a scarce resource, is not sustainable.
- The knowledge society is sustainable, when it preserves and promotes human and civil rights for the electronically determined environments of the future.
- The knowledge society is sustainable, when access to knowledge is unhampered and inclusive. It is sustainable when it promotes co-operative forms of knowledge production as the basis for innovation and creativity.
- The knowledge society is sustainable, when its knowledge forms the basis for effective means of preserving our natural environment. The increasing consumption of natural resources currently threatening this environment is also a result of the widespread propagation of information technologies.
- The knowledge society is sustainable, when access to knowledge and information provides all people in the world the opportunity for self-determined development in their private, professional and public lives. It is sustainable, when it preserves for future generations access to the diverse media constituting the knowledge of the past.
The ”Charter of Civil Rights for a Sustainable Knowledge Society” is based on the following rights and values. These must be preserved and promoted for all citizens of the global knowledge society:
1. Knowledge is the inheritance and the property of all of humanity and is thus free.
Knowledge represents the reservoir from which new knowledge is created. Knowledge must for this reason remain permanently publicly accessible. Limitations on public access through property claims must remain the exception. The protection of these property claims conflicts with the interests of the individual and the whole of society in knowledge as a public good. The property concept applied to immaterial goods must therefore recognise their fundamental status as common and public goods. The status of knowledge as a common good must have a higher position in the hierarchy of social values than the protection of individual property interests.
2. The access to knowledge must be free.
The central objective of a knowledge society organised according to the principle of sustainability is that access to all medial forms of knowledge must be possible for present as well as for future generations, for all people, at all times, in all places and to fair conditions. This applies to all area of society, not only to science. Only free access to knowledge and information makes democratic participation in public affairs possible and promotes creativity and innovation in science, business and culture. Only democratic control mechanisms can be allowed to limit the principle of free access.
3. Reducing the digital divide must be recognised as a political objective of high priority.
The digital divide, that is, the division of the population into groups that have access to the new media and groups that are excluded, has developed along traditional, for the most part social, ethnical and gender lines. It is a global challenge. The digital divide concerns unequal access to information and communications technologies between countries and within societies. The existing inequality of opportunities is increased by inequality of access.
It is essential to enable everyone access to old and new media. The mitigation of unequal access opportunities must proceed according to sustainable principles, for example by creating public-access locations appropriate to local conditions and needs and by encouraging media competence.
4. Everyone has an unlimited right of access to the documents of public and publicly controlled bodies.
Access to information and knowledge and free communication are necessary prerequisites for personal development, individual political participation and the development of humanity as a whole. Developments in information and communication technology offer the chance of extending opportunities for political participation.
Freedom of information makes political decisions transparent, reduces corruption and improves the management of information in public administrations. Secrecy in administrative activities thus always requires legitimisation. Its practice should only be tolerated within narrow boundaries and within a legally defined framework. It must also be possible to access information and knowledge in private hands in cases of particular public interest.
5. Workers' rights must also be upheld and developed further in the electronic network work environment.
The protection of human dignity, free personal development, and equality are individual free rights of great importance in the work environment. A necessary prerequisite for realising these rights for employees is the right to form coalitions, including the right to promote one's own interests and gather in freely elected organs of representation.
All employees must have free and uncensored Internet access at their workplace. Employees and their representative organs must have access to the communication system (Intranet) of their firm. The right to privacy must be protected in the work environment. Electronic surveillance and user-profiling must be prevented.
6. Cultural diversity is a prerequisite for individual and sustainable social development
Culture is realised in human artefacts (such as trade, art, technology), but also in languages, customs and social behaviour, norms and ways of life. The emergence of the global knowledge society must not be allowed to lead to cultural homogenisation. Instead, the creative potential of current information and communication technologies should be used to preserve and promote the heterogeneity of cultures and languages as a precondition for the individual and social development of present and future generations.
7. Media diversity and the availability of information from independent sources are essential for the maintenance of an enlightened public.
The concrete threat that only a few global media players will determine content and thus public opinion by using digital technologies must be counteracted.
Promoting the potential of the digital media for existing and new forms of media publicity, for instance through extensive public-service availability and open, direct, civil-society forms of media organisation with the free participation of all citizens is a matter of public responsibility. The rights to freedom of opinion and to a free press are to be supplemented by general rights to freedom of communication.
8. Open technical standards and open forms of technical and software production guarantee the free development of infrastructures and thus self-determined and free communication forms.
Proprietary solutions in regard to protocols and standards in network technologies, computer architectures and software applications lead to the formation of monopolies and are detrimental to innovation. When governments hold monopolies on infrastructures and when private-sector players have proprietary monopolies on technologies, there is an additional danger that the power to set standards will effect content and lead to restrictions in the freedom of information and communication for many people.
Open technical standards are in contrast a necessary prerequisite for the promotion of free and open software development and for self-determined communication.
9. The right to privacy is a human right and is essential for free and self-determined human development in the knowledge society.
Respect of privacy and the private sphere allow for both active participation and detachment in regard to social activities and opportunities. Every person has the right to decide freely, whether and in what manner he/she wants to receive information and communicate with others. The possibility of receiving information anonymously, no matter from which sources, must be ensured for everyone.
The power of private and state players over information increases the risk of manipulative access and surveillance and must be reduced to a legally legitimised minimum. The collection, analysis and release of personal data should remain at the disposal of the individual concerned.
The ”Charter of Civil Rights for a Sustainable Knowledge Society” is a work in progress. The first draft was presented at the second preparatory conference of the ”World Summit on the Information Society” (WSIS) in February 2003. The present, second draft considers the suggestions and criticism voiced at a public workshop instigated by the Heinrich Boell Foundation in March 2003. This Version of the Charter was formulated by:
Markus Beckedahl, Network New Media; Gabriele Beger, German Association for Information Science and Practice; Ralf Bendrath, FOGIS; Dr. Johann Bizer, Data Protection and Data Security; Dr. Christoph Bruch, Humanistic Union; Jutta Croll, Digital Chances Foundation; Olga Drossou, Heinrich Boell Foundation; Wolf Goehring, Fraunhofer Institute for Autonomous Intelligence Systems; Dr. Ralf Grötker, free-lance journalist; Arne Hintz, Indymedia; Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, Social Science Research Center Berlin; Prof. Hans J. Kleinsteuber, University of Hamburg; Prof. Rainer Kuhlen, University of Konstanz and German UNESCO Commission; Alvar Freude, odem.org; Nils Leopold, Humanistic Union; Prof. Bernd Lutterbeck, Technical University of Berlin; Annette Mühlberg, United Services Union Ver.di; Oliver Passek, Network New Media; Dr. Andreas Poltermann, Heinrich Boell Foundation; Jan Schallaböck, Network New Media; Petra Schaper-Rinkel, Free University of Berlin; Dr. Thomas Schauer, Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing (FAW); Rena Tangens and padeluun, Art d’Ameublement; FoeBuD Big Brother Awards Germany; Till Westermeyer, Network New Media.