SIF13 (VII). Internet freedom for global development – making progress?

Notes from the Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development, held at Münchenbryggeriet (The Brewery) at Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden, May 22-23, 2013. More notes on this event: #sif13.

Wrap-up: internet freedom for global development – making progress?

Moderator: Emily Taylor, Consultant, Non-executive Director Oxford Information Labs Ltd, Member of Multistakeholder Advisory Group at UN Internet Governance Forum.

Panelists: Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation; Yoani Sanchez, Journalist, Generation Y; Sang-yirl Nam, Research Fellow at the Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI); Andrew Wyckoff, Director, Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry at the OECD; Carlos Affonso Souza, Vice-Coordinator, Center for Technology and Society (CTS/FGV); Sylvie Coudray, Chief of Section of Freedom of Expression, UNESCO.

Internet freedom means physical access to infrastructures, but also access to content without any political bias or censorship and, at last, the freedom to publish content or opinions without any fear of harassment or personal harm.

The “Internet without the Internet” is about using USB keys to find and share all that it is not legal to be found and read and shared. Just like people are used in Cuba to look for illegal food in the black market, so do people look for illegal information on the Internet.

But what are the limits of freedom on the Internet?

Freedom is also having the skills to be able to operate the Internet.

Freedom is not being above the law, being free from the law. So, you are free not against the law, but because of the law.

ICTs give freedom to people through empowerment, providing tools to manage their own lives, to innovate, to leapfrog the stage of development they are in.

Freedom of the Net should be approached from a Human Rights point of view, which are “above” specific laws, sometimes disrespectful to Human Rights.

Multi-stakeholder initiatives are great for creating debate and a state of opinion, but at the end, it is elected representatives the ones that have the responsibility to make a decision and to make this decision happen in the real world. On the other hand, citizens can engage now much more through ICTs, so we should include them, not only as organized civil society, but as individuals, in decision-making processes.

When we speak about “responsible” citizens, what it sometimes happen is that totalitarian governments want “responsible” citizens that will only read and say what is “responsible”. And what happens is that once people reach the content that is on the Internet, they become critical and will read and say whatever they want, despite it is considered “responsible” by their totalitarian governments.

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Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development (2013)

SIF13 (I). Internet freedom in the global debate: mapping the state of play

Notes from the Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development, held at Münchenbryggeriet (The Brewery) at Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden, May 22-23, 2013. More notes on this event: #sif13.

Opening: Carl Bildt, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs

Broadband and mobile phones have implied a revolution. And the word revolution is intended and literal. The way we live, the way the economy works, have changed forever and radically. Soon 85% of the whole world population will be covered with mobile broadband.

Of course, such a revolutionary power wants to be captured by many countries, so they aim at controlling the Internet. So, we have to stop these governments from controlling the tool for freedom that the Internet is.

The right to freedom of opinion & expression, (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art 19) should apply online as well as offline. If there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of gathering, no freedom of access to information, there is no freedom at all.

Thus, we have to help those living in totalitarian countries in their fight for freedom of the Net.

And we have to be not threatened by lack of security because of gains in freedom. Security and freedom are the two sides of the same coin: they do not exclude one another, but they complement each other. Free societies are safe societies, open societies.

Opening session: Internet freedom in the global debate: mapping the state of play

Moderator: Emily Taylor, Consultant, Non-executive Director Oxford Information Labs Ltd, Member of Multistakeholder Advisory Group at UN Internet Governance Forum.

Panelists: Carl Bildt, Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs; Moez Chakchouk, CEO of the Tunisian Internet Agency; Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director at Bytes for All, Pakistan; Ebele Okobi, Global Director, Human Rights, Yahoo!; Susan Morgan, Executive Director, Global Network Initiative.

Does the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution on Internet and Human Rights implies any step forward?

The HR convention is a part of a broader pressure for establishing the importance of the issue. Even if it is not binding, it does set a precedent at the world level and is a very good tool for advocacy.

UN resolution on net freedom still needs to translate on the ground, to exit the aisles in Geneva and be put into practice.

How can the resolution be used to enhance connectivity, digital development? What is the connection between freedom and development?

Entrepreneurship is trying to do new things, things that have never been done before; entrepreneurship is about innovation and development comes from it. If there is no freedom to try things, then that is a huge barrier for innovation and entrepreneurship and, hence, development.

Aren’t there more debates around threats, security, barriers, and not on the opportunities of the Internet? Or instead of on the Internet (as something that is broken) why not more debate on those “usual suspects” that are the ones that raise threats and issues on security and barriers to freedom?

What about the role of companies and their responsibility to respect human rights on the Internet? How morally acceptable is e.g. Gamma International selling FinFisher surveillance software to repressive regimes?

Are we really better off in a world where laws are replaced with terms of service and courts are replaced with abuse departments?

There are times when censorship may be a good option for defending (other) Human Rights: e.g. Child Online Protection. But who should exert this “right to censorship”? Should elected governments the ones that should do it or or profit driven companies?

Not only some totalitarian governments limit freedom of expression on the Internet. In many places in Latin America is organized crime the one that limits it by threatening journalists, politicians and activists.

Surveillance does not limit freedom of speech because it is discreet. But, in the long term, surveillance easily leads to self-censorship and therefore can be just as inhibiting as actual Internet limitations.

The fight against surveillance is the fact for freedom from suspicion.

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Stockholm Internet Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development (2013)