Media - Freedom of expression and information

 Committee of experts on protection of journalism and safety of journalists (MSI-JO)

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  Conference "The Hate factor in political speech - Where do responsibilities lie?", Warsaw18-19 September 2013
  Conference of Ministers, Reykjavik - Iceland, 28-29 May 2009
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Useful links

Speech by Jan Kleijssen
The Budapest Conference on Cyberspace
4-5 October 2012

Dear friends,

When Winston Churchill proposed the creation of the Council of Europe (in 1941) he stressed that there could be no peace without human rights. Likewise, today there can be no cyber-peace, or cyber-security without human rights.

For the Council of Europe this means promoting an internet based on human rights, pluralist democracy and the rule of law.

The Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy, adopted in March this year, identifies a variety of challenges both to freedom and to security purposes in over 40 lines of action.

In order to achieve these objectives, we are very aware that we have to work closely with other international organisations, governments, but also crucially with the private sector and civil society.

Therefore, the Council of Europe is active at the IGF, is co-organising EuroDIG and supporting national IGFs.

For the internet to remain universal, open and innovative, traditional 20th Century multi-lateral diplomacy will not deliver. 21st Century multi-stakeholder dialogue and multi-stakeholder agreements are necessary.

A few words on freedom of expression and security

Freedom of expression lies at the heart of free society and is guaranteed under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights has held that Article 10 also protects opinions that may “offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population.” However, the exercise of this right does carry with it duties and responsibilities. This applies as much on-line as it does off-line.

We have recently seen how much these principles can be the subject of intense controversy and extreme violence.

With regard to the video clip that caused so much anger in the Muslim world, the Council of Europe has firmly condemned the acts of terrorism and the calls for violence.

It has also condemned any incitement to hatred, in particular on racist grounds and called for respect of everyone’s beliefs. It further has called for dialogue and for all to show a sense of restraint and responsibility by refraining from any act or declaration which may stir up hatred and confrontation.

The unprecedented speed and global reach of expression on the internet clearly raises new issues with regard to the duties and responsibilities, and the necessary restraint that freedom of expression brings with it. According to the European Court of Human Rights, in the absence of a uniform conception of the significance of religion in society, it is not possible to arrive at a comprehensive definition of what constitutes a permissible interference with the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, where such expression is directed at the religious feelings of others. The Court has therefore held that a certain margin of appreciation is therefore to be left to the national authorities.

In his 2011 report, the United Nations Special Representative Frank La Rue expressed his concern about the criminalisation of on-line expression, whether through the application of existing laws, or the creation of special legislation concerning expression on the internet. He noted that such laws are often justified as being necessary to protect individuals’ reputation, national security or to counter terrorism. However, in practice, these laws are frequently used to sensor content that the government and other powerful entities do not like nor agree with.

The European Court of Human Rights will shortly render its judgment on complaints about the complete blocking of internet access to certain websites.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications

As the President of Estonia noted yesterday, another major international development is the forthcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications organised by the ITU in Dubai in December, where, in particular, the revision of the International Telecommunications Regulations is on the agenda.

This conference will touch upon several aspects of internet governance.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in 2011 adopted a Declaration on Internet Governance principles. In this Declaration, the 47 governments stated that:

    - Internet related policies should not adversely affect the unimpeded flow of trans-boundary internet traffic. In other words, they should do no harm to the internet.

    - The decentralised nature of the responsibilities for the day to day management of the internet should be preserved;

    - Moreover, the open standards and the inter-operability of the internet should be preserved.

    - Finally, users should have the greatest possible access to content, applications and services of their choice.

So, indeed, there are rules for Internet Governance. The Council of Europe’s 47 member states have agreed on important ones, following intensive multi-stakeholder dialogue. We look forward to an official invitation to share this experience in Dubai.

While protecting human rights through the European Convention on Human Rights also on the internet, the Council of Europe has elaborated several international conventions to protect people from crimes committed on the internet, in other words: governance. The Budapest Cybercrime Convention has become a global standard. 4 more States recently ratified, including Japan as the first country in Asia. Moreover, many states across the world have aligned their domestic legislation with the provisions of this Convention.

A workshop during this conference will deal with this in more detail.

The Bureau of the Budapest Convention Committee, the T-CY, recently suggested to the Parties to the Budapest Convention not to support an extension of the International Telecommunications Regulations to criminal justice matters.

The data protection Convention, better known as Convention 108, which guides states to protect people’s privacy is currently being modernised.

Other recent conventions directly relating to the internet concern the protection of children against sexual abuse, the prevention of terrorism and the sale of counterfeit medicine.

Looking ahead

As mentioned at the outset, multi-stakeholder dialogue will be essential.

At the same time, the private sector should been encouraged to act responsibly. Technology is moving much faster than the law.

The Global Network Initiative and other corporate social responsibility initiatives demonstrate the interest and commitment of the private sector. Critical third party assessment-evaluation and regular and transparent reporting are essential for the long-term credibility of these efforts. Broader participation, such as by European companies, is also needed.

Helping users to understand and exercise their rights more effectively will be another key element of sustainable internet governance. Users should be provided with better information and assistance with making choices on-line. For this, the terms and conditions of service of internet intermediaries need to be adapted and made much more user-friendly.

The Council of Europe has started work on a compendium of rights for users, including remedies. This compendium is scheduled for adoption next year. For it to be of real benefit to users, we very much look forward to our partners in the private sector for its on-line dissemination.

We are also working on a Declaration on tracking and surveillance and will draw the attention of ICANN to human rights implications of its decisions on top-level domain names.

Many standards already exist, however we need to know what they are to implement them more effectively. For this we need to find ways to monitor compliance, provide assistance when needed, and apply pressure where required.

There should be more transparency and awareness of laws and regulations governing the internet. There is a need for better “collection and sharing of data and good practice on laws, regulations and trends related to Internet governance. The European Audiovisual Observatory is very well placed to do so.

We hope to find partners to obtain the necessary resources to carry out this task.

In conclusion, let me stress again that freedom and security, transparency and respect for confidentiality, as well as the exercise of individual rights and responsibility have to be achieved simultaneously.

Together with our partners in other organisations, governments, the private sector and civil society, this is what he Council of Europe aims to contribute to.

Thank you !