Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms

Digital Rights

Cite this article as:
Chris Wiersma (17/12/2021). Digital Rights. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio.

Author: Chris Wiersma

In a framework of ‘digital citizenship’ (see Ribble, 2011)1, “[b]eing a full member in a digital society means that each user is afforded certain rights, and these rights should be provided equally to all members” (id, 35)2. Digital rights are, in such a general sense, connected to ‘boundaries’ [which] “may come in the form of legal rules or regulations, or as acceptable use policies” (id)3 . Therefore, one of the key related terms is ‘responsibility’, which also points to the idea that “those who partake in the digital society would work together to determine an appropriate-use framework acceptable to all” (id)4 .

The term ‘digital rights’ is a concept that has gained recognition through an evolving interpretation of rights recognized by governments all over the world. It is worth noting there is a conspicuous lack of l definition of the term. In fact, it is not specifically referenced in the definitions provided by core documents of legal doctrine and policy-relevant for the field of platform law and policy, particularly in treaty law, international regulations, or national Constitutions. However, claims are progressively being brought in front of the courts or raised in political debates emphasizing the importance of the digital environment.

At the same time, any general search for the term outside these arenas of legal debate easily shows that the term gained major significance in recent times. As the term is widely used in common parlance as well as in all kinds of internet policy debates, advocacy, and legal practice, it is beyond the scope of our definition to cover all the rights that have been addressed in the above-mentioned law and policy context.

A common trait in its usage is the emphasis on the internet’s impact on everyday life in our societies on a global scale, through the pervasiveness of online human interaction nowadays. When striving for a possible recognition by the institutions normally guaranteeing fundamental rights, digital rights would be said to act as corollaries of other rights that are available. For example, the UN Human Rights Council in several consensus resolutions (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2021)5 6 7 8 9 has (re-)affirmed: “that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular, freedom of expression”.

Any progress towards realizing the idea of universal (digital) access would impact the idea of ‘digital rights’. The ever-growing pervasiveness of digital technologies can also lead to changing the social contract between societal actors and delineating a new understanding around rights, values, responsibilities, and entitlements for the benefit of all in a digital society (see generally, e.g., Vesnic-Alujevic et al., 2021; also, Shulga-Morskaya 2020)10 11.

The current digital divide(s) is, therefore, a major policy issue relevant for the digital rights- campaigns. In this regard, it seems important to have multi-level provisions that explicitly entrench the new digital rights, such as digital access. Besides, existing fundamental rights are still key for the development of policies surrounding recommendations for platforms’ responsibility towards rights-holders.


Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship.

  1. Ribble, M. (2011). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know. International Society for Technology in Education.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. UN. (2012). The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet. A_HRC_20_L13. Geneva: United Nations. Available at:
  6. UN. (2014). The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet. A/HRC/RES/26/13. Geneva: United Nations. Available at:
  7. UN. (2016). ‘The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet’. A/HRC/RES/32/13. Geneva: United Nations. Available at:
  8. UN. (2018). ‘The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet’. Geneva: United Nations. A/HRC/38/L.10. Available at:
  9. UN. (2021).  A/HRC/47/L.22. Geneva: United Nations. Available at:
  10. Vesnić-Alujević, L. (2021). ‘Imagining democratic societies of the future: Insights from a foresight study’, Futures & Foresight Science, 3:e60,
  11. Shulga-Morskaya, T. (2020). E-démocratie. Aménager la démocratie représentative? (L’Harmattan).
Categorized as Entries

By Chris Wiersma

Chris Wiersma is Legal Officer - Central Intellectual Property Service at the Joint Research Centre (DG JRC)/European Commission. Researcher in Information Law & Constitutional Justice, especially having expertise in media law, IP/copyright, data protection and the impact of digital technologies on human and fundmental rights, in the context of European legislation. Résumé and full list of publications are available on ORCiD at

Leave a comment