Online and Linked in: 'Public Morals' in the Human Rights and Trade Networks

43 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2013

See all articles by Uyen P. Le

Uyen P. Le

University of California, Davis - School of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2012


In response to the increasing abuse of internet censorship by governments during the Jasmine Revolution, this article suggests a multilateral and comprehensive approach to confront internet censorship by examining the “public morals” exceptions in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Traditionally, censorship has been solely discussed in the human rights framework. It is only recently that scholars like Tim Wu have suggested that government censorship of the internet constitutes protectionism in the trade context. The development of Web 2.0 supports this suggestion. Since Web 2.0, political activists have utilized consumer-participant internet businesses (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) as vehicles and platforms to advocate change. In exchange, political activities now have economic value. The mutual symbiosis created by Web 2.0 aligns the human rights and trade frameworks on parallel, if not the same, tracks. The integration of consumer-participant and political activities warrants a similar integration of the human rights and the trade legal frameworks.

Because both human rights and trade law permit limited censorship under its own “public morals” exception, these seemingly identical yet undefined exceptions are key to the linking of trade and human rights.I propose that these exceptions should be linked by interpretive incorporation, the narrowest form of linkage. Incorporating the human rights’ interpretation of “public morals” into the trade agreements advances the missions of both institutions while preventing potential political and economic abuses. Furthermore, interpretive incorporation empowers the international order and strengthens the enforcement mechanisms for both the trade and human rights frameworks.

Keywords: Freedom of Expression, ICCPR, GATT, Public Morals, General Exception, Human Rights, Trade, Linkage, Internet Censorship, Web 2.0, Protectionism

Suggested Citation

Le, Uyen P., Online and Linked in: 'Public Morals' in the Human Rights and Trade Networks (September 1, 2012). North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation, Vol. 38, No. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Uyen P. Le (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis - School of Law ( email )

Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall
Davis, CA CA 95616-5201
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics