The fast pace of technological advancement and the cross-border nature of digital services present great opportunities but also challenges for individuals, societies and institutional frameworks. It is the task of governments to protect human rights and the rule of law in the digital environment.
However, companies play a critical role in addressing technology-related challenges because they provide and control the digital infrastructure. A constructive, open and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach is therefore required to find effective and sustainable solutions. The Council of Europe has been cooperating closely with civil society for decades. Its partnership with businesses enables company representatives to sit side-by-side with governments and civil society when shaping policies related to digital technologies, in the perspective of the respect of human rights and supporting democracy and the rule of law.
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This partnership enables companies to participate in an array of intergovernmental activities and related work of the Council of Europe and to sit side-by-side with governments when shaping internet policy. Concrete areas of cooperation may include (but not limited to) the following spheres:
- children’s protection in the online environment;
- combating cybercrime and the use of the internet for terrorist purposes;
- data protection, including Big Data issues;
- digital literacy promotion;
- digitalisation of cultural heritage and cultural services;
- addressing abusive forms of expression online (i.e., incitement to violence) and disinformation ("fake news" phenomenon);
- democratic elections and e-voting;
- combating money laundering and corruption.
Exploring new opportunities
Cooperation within the general farmework of the Council of Europe’s partnership with internet companies and their representative associations may assume a variety of forms, including:
- participating in the work of committees and other intergovernmental or expert organs, bodies and structures of the Council of Europe to contribute to the drafting of legally and politically binding standards;
- co-organising conferences and other awareness-raising events;
- providing expertise for Council of Europe studies and thematic reports (i.e., hearings with experts, brainstorming sessions);
- receiving Council of Europe expertise (i.e., training sessions, seminars);
- joint projects, targeted partnerships.
The value of partnerships for internet companies and their representative associations consists in the unique opportunity to:
- Boost public confidence and users' trust in their services by publicly acknowledging their corporate social responsibility and commitment to respect and support human rights and rule of law online.
- Gain a better understanding of the Council of Europe legal frameworks and international policy considerations, including prevention of cybercrime, data protection, hate speech, etc.
- Access to the network of the Council of Europe’s 46 member states and 6 observer states and civil society organisations to discuss and create a forum for dialogue to confront challenges, serving as an early warning system for the fast - moving and increasingly complex area of legal and human rights challenges surrounding the information society.
- Better understand government and societal expectations, particularly in new entry countries, where offices may not yet be on the ground.
- Influence the development of Council of Europe policies for the internet. Active participation in discussions ensures that recommendations and legal instruments are well-written, providing realistic regulation and implementable recommendations to confront existing policy challenges with flexibility to handle future issues.
- Devise and implement corporate social responsibility initiatives more effectively. The benefits of the Council of Europe expertise and of coordination and engagement with other stakeholders help to better meet international human rights standards and optimise investment in such initiatives.
The Council of Europe is strengthening its co-operation with the private sector in order to promote an open and safe internet, where human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are respected in the online environment.
Following multi-lateral consultations, the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland signed the agreement – in the form of an exchange of letters – with representatives of eight leading technology firms and six associations during a ceremony in Strasbourg on the 8 November 2017, during the World Forum for Democracy.
The partnership with internet companies creates a platform for enhanced collaboration between relevant companies and the Council of Europe on specific projects and it facilitates the debate and the exchange of experiences on protection of human rights and the rule of law on the internet.
On 23 on May 2018 two new entities, Cloudflare and EuroISPA, exchanged letters with the Council of Europe Secretary General and thereby officially joined the cooperation framework established in November 2017 to promote respect for human rights online. Thorbjørn Jagland welcomed the widening of this partnership and highlighted the importance of coordinated efforts in addressing the multiple challenges stemming from the digital environment.
On the same day, a workshop with internet companies created the opportunity to advance debate on current challenges to internet governance posed in the areas of (i) cyber-security systems and solutions, (ii) privacy and big data analytics, (iii) content moderation on social media, and (iv) democratic processes and micro-targeting.
On 6 February 2020, five new companies and business associations, Element AI (now ServiceNow), ICCO, IEEE, Intel and RIPE NCC associated themselves with the co-operation framework established in November 2017 to facilitate respect for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law on the internet.
On 17 November 2020, BT, IBM and The Internet Society were also welcomed as part of this partnership.
On 28 June 2022, the ICC and the LEGO Group exchanged letters with Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić, formalizing their partnerships.
Since its launch in 2016, in the framework of the Digital Partnership, 27 companies and business associations have joined Council of Europe activities related to the fight against cybercrime, data protection, artificial intelligence, freedom of expression, promotion of equality and non-discrimination, education and the protection of children.
Full list of partners: Apple, AT&T, BT, Cloudflare, Computer & Communications industry association (CCIA), Deutsche Telekom, DigitalEurope, ServiceNow (formerly Element AI), EuroISPA, European Digital SME Alliance, European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), META, Global Network Initiative (GNI), Google, GSMA, IBM, ICCO, IEEE, Intel, ISOC, Microsoft, Kaspersky, Orange, RIPE NCC, Telefónica, The Lego Group, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC)