The fast pace of technological change and the cross-border nature of internet services present opportunities, but also challenges for users. While it is the task of governments to protect human rights and the rule of law online, companies play a critical role in addressing today’s challenges of the digital age because they provide and control its infrastructure. The partnership with the Council of Europe enables them to sit side-by-side with governments when shaping internet policy.

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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 companies are Apple, Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Kaspersky Lab, Orange and Telefónica. The associations are Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), DIGITALEUROPE, the European Digital SME Alliance, the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), GSMA and the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative (GNI). It was provided that the additional agreements could be signed with other partners in the future.

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.