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Our Internet – Our rights, our freedoms

Towards the Council of Europe strategy on Internet Governance 2012-2015

Vienna, 24 November 2011

 
 
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The Internet is the greatest invention of our time.
 
But, how can we safeguard our freedoms and rights in a space everybody joins but nobody owns ?
 
To do so, we need vision and leadership. Our draft Council of Europe strategy aims at bringing our pan-European core values onto the global Internet platform.
 
In short, our vision is about “maximising the freedom and minimising the threats”.
 
Let me start with freedom.
 
First of all, access to the Internet must be accepted and respected as an integral part of everyone’s right to freedom of expression and access to information. If we cannot, or are not allowed, to access the Internet, our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights are at stake.
 
I believe that an excessive control of the activities of people on or through the Internet is not the answer. To do that is to reject freedom and democracy itself.
 
The Council of Europe, including the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, has developed many standards on the rights of Internet users. Now we should bring these standards together in a user-friendly compendium of Internet rights.
 
Let me also mention freedom of expression and media freedom on the Internet, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights. Indeed the Internet plays an important role in enhancing the public’s access to news and facilitates the dissemination of information generally. States have therefore to create a regulatory framework to ensure effective protection of journalists’ freedom of expression on the Internet.
 
At the same time, the principles of responsible journalism, by verifying the accuracy of the published information, have to be applied in a more strict way by journalists on the Internet.
 
The right to have our data protected is another aspect of freedom on the Internet and one which is not without challenge.  
 
Web pages, search requests, on-line forms, picture sharing or travel booking may have an influence on our right to private life and on the protection of our personal data.
 
The Council of Europe has, for over 30 years, been at the forefront of the protection of privacy.
 
Many actors from civil society, governments and the private sector are calling for global standards in the field of data protection. Countries worldwide can accede to our Convention on Data Protection.
 
But we have many challenges ahead: geo-location, profiling, ‘cloud computing’, biometric data, permanent tracking and open data, to name but a few.
 
In order to start meeting these challenges, we are now engaged in the modernisation of the Data Protection Convention. The process has already started and should be finished by the end of 2012.
 
Ladies and gentlemen,
Now, let me turn to threats.
 
When we talk about the opportunities of the Internet, we cannot ignore the threats and risks that come with its use.
 
We have witnessed how technology and the Internet can be used, as well as misused. No doubt, social media and the Internet played a major role during the Arab Spring, but - as a matter of fact - it also played a role during the riots in London and Rome. 
 
A lesson learned after the tragic events in Norway on
22 July, is that extremists use and manipulate Internet sites to promulgate their views.
 
To a certain extent, they live in virtual parallel societies on the Internet – feeding each other with hate speech and political propaganda.
 
 
This cannot go on unchecked. From a security point of view, we need to follow the actions of these groups much more closely, to avoid similar incidents which occurred in Oslo and Utoya this summer from happening again.
 
The major threat that we need to address is cybercrime. Yesterday, in Strasbourg, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime.
 
This treaty has indeed made a difference. We must look into ways to reinforce and broaden its impact.
 
The same goes for its Protocol on xenophobia and racism through computer systems adopted in 2003.
 
The Budapest Convention has already helped to harmonise legislation. Not only European countries, but also states worldwide have adopted laws in line with this Convention. 
 
We are witnessing an increase in the number of investigations. In Germany, more than 27,000 cases of computer-related fraud were recorded in 2010 alone, leading to law enforcement investigations.
 
 
 
We are also witnessing increased international co-operation between the Parties - all of them have created points of contact for urgent
co-operation.
 
The Budapest Convention is a treaty which has proven to work. And it works because it does not operate in isolation.
 
It has proven to work because it is part of a multi-stakeholder approach where different organisations contribute with what they can do best. And it has proven to work because it is not about protecting machines but about protecting people and their rights.
 
However, cybercrime is still a major threat and therefore we need to increase our efforts.
 
The most effective way ahead is to ensure full implementation of what we have already agreed upon. A first step should be to ensure the ratification by all member states of the Council of Europe, but also to encourage accession by States from other regions of the world.
 
Before I close, let me say a few words about the particular situation of children and young people.
 
 
 
Today we stand at a cross-roads.
 
We have to ensure freedom of expression on the Internet and, at the same time, we have to protect our children’s rights.
 
We cannot accept child abuse images circulating on the Internet.
 
We cannot cater for the appetite of sexual predators by tolerating this.
 
We need to make sure that, together with other countries and regions of the world, with the industry and civil society organisations, we tackle this outrageous crime and this affront to human dignity within the framework of the rule of law and human rights.
 
Our children and young people must be able to safely play, learn, communicate and develop.
 
These new media environments, be they social networks, blogs, chats and messenger services offer big opportunities but also carry risks of violence, abuse, or exploitation. We all have a duty to protect our children and youngsters from harm online.
 
Dear friends,
 
There is no small print in the European Convention on Human Rights which says that it applies only offline.
 
The reality is however that offline, human rights are protected through national courts as well as, for the European continent, the European Court of Human Rights.
 
Online, it is much more difficult to protect them, as there are no borders for the Internet. To ensure that human rights are protected online as well as offline, we need to think and act globally, beyond the borders of Europe. And we need to work together, with all stakeholders, towards a common understanding of how best to protect human rights in a globalized and online Internet environment.
 
We need a sustainable life-long approach for the Internet to shape the world we live in. The draft strategy is an important contribution from our pan-European region to this global issue.
 
Thank you for your attention.