I’m writing to you from Berlin, Germany on Thanksgiving and I’m missing my family. But it was important to be here. I came to attend and participate at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF). At the IGF, people from all over the world delve into an assortment of internet issues that impact the lives of people everywhere. Very broadly, the topics covered related to free speech, privacy, competition, security, child safety, nationalism, protecting democratic elections, and the reason I was here: discussing and promoting access to safe and affordable medicine on the Internet. Attendees and participants are affiliated with international governmental organizations, national governments, non-profit organizations, activists, businesses, journalists, and a wide array of policy professionals focused on internet governance.
What is internet governance? I like this definition from Georgia Tech School of Public Policy:
“Internet governance refers to the rules, policies, standards and practices that coordinate and shape global cyberspace.”
From left to right: Aria Iliad Ahmad, me, Dr. Jillian Clare Kohler, Tim Smith, Ron Andruff, Dr. Shivam Patel, Tracy Cooley, and Robert Guerra.
Last year I organized a panel at a conference called RightsCon to bring together Internet freedom and medicines rights activists to talk about buying medication online. And last week, I participated on a panel at RightsCon in Toronto that continued and strengthened those initial efforts. It was an honor to be on that panel, especially to hold discussions with academic experts in pharmaceutical safety and access with important roles working with the World Health Organization (WHO).
For those of you who are new to this blog, the work at RightsCon is directly relevant to PharmacyChecker’s mission to inform patients about safe and lower-cost medication options available on the Internet. Essentially, large pharmaceutical companies are lobbying governments and Internet companies to take actions that will prevent you from getting less expensive medications. This is also an issue about free speech and Internet freedom that should increasingly attract even more digital rights activists. Big Pharma is pressuring governments to pressure Internet gatekeepers to take down content. This is the Stop Online Piracy Act by a thousand cuts. We are trying to push back against that.
A product of the RightsCon Conference, the completion of the Brussels Principles on Medication Sales over the Internet was announced last month. Those principles invoke international human rights law in defending the online sale and purchase of affordable medications that are imported by consumers. Many countries view access to healthcare and by extension to essential medications as a human right, which is reflected in recent declarations by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I happen to be a very patriotic American, one who believes in global cooperation, human rights law and the work of the United Nations as being good for our country. I respect that many Americans are turned off by or concerned about globalization, international agreements or the UN and we can disagree on that. But you know what, we don’t need global human rights law to make our case against Big Pharma and its price gouging: we have our Founding Fathers and national notions of liberty to rely on.
In considering the spirit of the July 4th holiday, it’s worth remembering that the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence do not guarantee us access to all we want or economic equality. I believe, however, that those rights include the freedom to purchase medication at a price we can afford and any laws that prevent us from doing so violate those rights.
Those sacred rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, according to the Founding Fathers, were not granted to us by government (or international organizations). They are divine rights. Think about that the next time you consider buying lower cost imported medication from Canada.