(No.128) Empowering Internet Users – which tools?

Go to Report
Workshop Theme: 
Security, Openness and Privacy
Theme Question: 

Freedom of expression and free flow of information: how do legal framework, regulations, and principles impact this?

Concise Description of Workshop: 

Offline rights are online rights. Both governmental and non-governmental actors agree that the international corpus of human rights and fundamental freedoms remains valid and applicable to activities on, and access to, the Internet. There is, however, a shared feeling in different Internet communities that there is a need to elaborate further on how the Internet has shaped the application of existing human rights standards, and how accepted rights can shape the Internet. In light of the different collections of Internet Governance principles developed in 2011, stakeholders are in need of orientation as to how rights and freedoms can be actualised on the Internet and how their exercise and enjoyment can be fully ensured in online environments. Numerous initiatives by different actors have focused on this particular issue. The Internet Rights & Principles Coalition (IRP) has elaborated 10 Internet Rights and Principles and a Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet. There are also community collaborative projects such as 10 draft principles for global free speech launched by Timothy Garton Ash and an international team based at Oxford University, We The Web Kids – Manifesto, the Internet Blueprint and many others. The Council of Europe pursuant to its Internet Governance Strategy 2012-2015, will work on a compendium of existing human rights for Internet users to help them in communicating with and seeking effective recourse to key Internet actors and government agencies when they consider their rights and freedoms have been adversely affected. The IGF provides an opportunity to discuss the content and nature of tools which would best serve the goals of enabling and empowering users to fully exercise and enjoy their rights on the Internet. The workshop is thus a place where synergies among stakeholders can be explored and strategies discussed.

Organiser(s) Name: 

Council of Europe The Internet Rights & Principles Coalition

Submitted Workshop Panelists: 

Mr Wolfgang Benedek, Professor for International Law and International Relations at the University of Graz, Austria
Mrs Meryem Marzouki - European Digital Rights (EDRi) and CNRS & Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France MODERATOR
Mr Marco Pancini - Senior Policy Counsel, Google
Dr Matthias Traimer, Head of Department, Media Affairs and Information Society, Federal Chancellery, Constitutional Service, Austria
Mr Michael Rotert - European Association of Internet Service Providers (EuroISPA)
Ms Joy Liddicoat, Association for Progressive Communications

Name of Remote Moderator(s): 
Elvana Thaçi
Gender Report Card
Please estimate the overall number of women participants present at the session: 
About half of the participants were women
To what extent did the session discuss gender equality and/or women's empowerment?: 
It was raised by one or more of the speakers as an important aspect of the session's theme
Reported by: 
Elvana Thaçi, Council of Europe
A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were raised: 

Panellists and discussants acknowledged a number of initiatives undertaken by different stakeholders to develop a better understanding by Internet users with regard to the implementation of international human rights standards on the Internet. Some notable examples are the Charter of Rights and Principles elaborated by the Dynamic Coalition on Internet Rights and Principles and the Internet Rights Charter of the Association for Progressive Communications.
The Council of Europe presented its initiative to develop a Compendium of existing rights of Internet Users. The objective is, by building on these initiatives, to give citizens a practical means of understanding their fundamental rights and freedoms online and to help them communicate with Internet actors when they think that their rights have been violated.
Discussions confirmed that people are reaching for tools on their rights and freedoms not only as a means of improving their enjoyment of their rights and freedoms but also as leverage on Internet public policy.
Private sector panellists presented different tools that they make available to Internet users. For example, some ISPs have created hotlines where users can report their problems but they are limited in scope. The approach taken is usually to assist law enforcement in fighting criminal activities online rather than to offer Internet users a tool that is responsive to a wider array of concerns with regard to the exercise of their rights and freedoms.
Google presented several initiatives it has taken to improve Internet users’ online safety and to ensure transparency towards them as well as other activities in the exercise of its corporate social responsibility.

Conclusions and further comments: 

Discussions with workshop participants focused on problems that users encounter such as removal of Internet content without due process, harassment of online bloggers, tracking users’ activities online, the full enjoyment of freedom of expression, online safety, cyber stalking of women, jurisdictional issues, etc.
Corporations do generally recognise their social responsibilities and to a certain extent exercise such responsibilities. However, the international legal obligation to ensure the protection of Internet users’ rights and freedom lies in the first place with states. More needs to be done to operationalise citizens’ rights and freedoms online and to ensure that they have access to effective remedies. The Council of Europe’s initiative to elaborate a Compendium of existing rights of Internet users is therefore a welcome development which is capable of renewing and re-affirming states’ commitments to human rights.