Conference on the Internet and Human Rights
Social networks, blogs and Facebook revolutions – the virtual world of Web 2.0 is transforming our political culture, as well as the framework for foreign policy. Today the Internet is an important platform in many countries around the world for people to express their opinions freely. But what impact do those developments have on the protection of human rights? Should free access to the Internet be declared a human right in itself? How can we protect Internet activists in repressive states?
Enlarge image (© Federal Foreign Office) The second Berlin cyber conference on “The Internet and Human Rights: Building a free, open and secure Internet” taking place at the Federal Foreign Office on September 13 and 14 provides an international forum for discussing such issues. The Federal Foreign Office is organizing the event in cooperation with Human Rights Watch, Aarhus University and the Berlin Humboldt University’s Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society.
The first day of the conference saw lively debates in the workshops. Some of the issues dealt with were: How can new technologies be used to promote democracy? What protection do human rights activists need in order to escape surveillance in repressive states? Do we need new guidelines in order to prevent the export of Western surveillance technology to such states? What role does intellectual property play in today’s Internet-dominated world?
During the two-day conference, plenary sessions and workshops on topics such as Internet governance, human rights and the protection of intellectual property are being held. The conference is bringing together around 120 international experts from the political, academic and business sectors as well as from civil society.
Internet freedom is a foreign policy objective
In a keynote speech on September 14, Foreign Minister Westerwelle highlighted the importance of the Internet, saying that it had become a synonym for the changes and chances of globalization. Now we needed to find answers to the crucial question as to how we best organize the Internet in order to keep it “free, open and secure.”
Computer systems had become the nervous system of the modern world, Westerwelle said – and the Internet a significant driver of our wealth. To fully benefit from the advantages of the Internet, we had to address its challenges as well, the Minister went on to say and pointed to the dangers of surveillance software and the issue of intellectual property.
Westerwelle stated that international cooperation was needed to provide answers to these crucial questions. The fundamental principles of German Cyber Foreign Policy were: freedom, responsibility and transparency. The Internet was also a driving force for a “true globalization of values.”
Internet freedom is an important objective in Germany’s foreign policy: it affects human rights policy as well as issues of security policy. Moreover, Internet freedom plays a key role in development cooperation and foreign trade and investment policy.
Growing coalition for Internet freedom
In a debate, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue, EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis, OSCE representative on freedom of the media Dunja Mijatovic and Arvind Ganesan from Human Rights Watch, among others, discussed the importance of the Internet and human rights in today’s foreign policy.
Dunja Mijatovic said there was no lack of attempts to restrict freedom of opinion on the Internet. Arvind Ganesan also pointed out the progress which had been made in the last few years. For example, he said, there was a growing coalition of governments which were championing Internet freedom and human rights on the Internet. The United Nations recently formulated its position on the Internet and human rights, affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.