Internet by the people, for the people, with the people

council-of-europeAn opinion piece provided by the Council of Europe in the Nordic Countries:

Last month in China, President Barack Obama said that criticism on the Internet had made him a better president. There is no doubt that the Internet renders our decision makers more transparent and accountable than ever before.

A new law in Finland gives citizens a right to broadband Internet access, and European Union discussions on the ‘Telecoms Package’ have resulted in a decision that a user’s internet access may be restricted, if necessary and proportionate, only after a fair and impartial procedure including a right to be heard and to judicial review.

What does this mean? With over 1.6 billion users worldwide, the Internet has become important if not vital for everyday life. It has revolutionised the way we connect with each other across boundaries of time, distance, culture, and experience. Online we share ideas, we build knowledge and understanding, we challenge conventional wisdom, and we create networks for positive change. Much of this is thanks to the private sector for having the foresight, belief and courage to invest in the development of innovative services and technologies, many of which are free of charge.

Access to the Internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity. It can empower people living below the poverty threshold. It is a tool for democracy that can counter heavy-handed governments. Millions of us now have a legitimate expectation that Internet services should be accessible, affordable, secure, reliable and ongoing.

For the younger generation, the Internet is first and foremost their opportunity. It is their primary source of freedom and information in growing-up. It must not be presented as a dark place signposted with danger and caution.

The very moment we enter the Internet highway we unwittingly leave traces of personal data for others to see and to use. When we click to accept the terms and conditions of Internet services we are often obliged to provide personal data without knowing what will happen to that data. Whether the solution will be with global privacy laws or a big red delete button on services remains to be seen. At the very least, our children, as digital natives, should be able to remove their traces. After all, children have the right to a childhood like we, the digital immigrants, had before the Internet.

With 60 years of experience, and thousands of European Court of Human Rights judgments, the 47 governments of the Council of Europe play a crucial role in watching over inter alia our freedom of expression and our right to privacy, including on the Internet. Together with governments and the private sector, the Council of Europe is shaping Internet policy in Europe and beyond, establishing baselines and benchmarks.

Let me be clear. Freedom of expression is not an absolute right; it must be balanced with other rights. That’s the way we see it in Europe. Freedom comes with responsibility. This extends to examining the responsibilities of businesses that provide technologies and services which penetrate and dominate the market so much that there is no natural alternative.

The European Convention on Human Rights protects the individual from abuses by the State. In the Internet age, governments and private sector must cooperate to make sure that individuals are protected from abuse by state and non-state actors in cyberspace too.

So what about the management of resources indispensable for the functioning of the Internet? What happens, for example, if a government or powerful corporation decides to cut off, slow down or otherwise to interfere with another country’s access to the Internet? Discussions about the so-called internationalisation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) go in the right direction. Much more needs to be discussed and worked out.

But it will only be by working together – businesses, the international community, international and multi-state organisations and individual states – that there will be effective responsibility, freedom and protection of our human rights when going online. After all, and lest we forget, the Internet, our Internet, is being built by the people, for the people and with the people.

(Everybody is welcome to submit articles for publication on IceNews, although the editor reserves the right to alter or reject submissions. If you have an article relating to some aspect of life in the Nordic countries, send it to news<at> for review and possible publication.)

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