Defending the right to a free, open and interconnected Internet has become a touchstone of the western progressive tradition.
Finland and Estonia have gone furthest in their embrace of the internet as an instrument of free expression, ruling that access to the online “knowledge society” is a human right for their citizens. The Internet was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Price in March 2009.
Yet away from the political rhetoric and think-tank policy papers, the real world may look upon the internet as a useful but anarchic frontier of the global age.
Podcast: Interviews with Kathrin Voss (Germany), Ali Novruzov (Azerbaijan) and Jan Malinowski (CoE)
Certainly that is the impression given by the media. The affectionate coverage which marked the arrival of the information superhighway is now underscored by a suspicion that the digital environment teems with menace.
If the virus, the hacker, the spammer or the sexual predator doesn’t get you, the identity fraudster will. Such is the web experience in 2011.
The media’s cautionary tales may be in the public interest but they also create fertile conditions for paranoia. The mistrust which can flow from a rich diet of scare stories increases the likelihood that governments will rush to legislative action. At a time of dizzyingly-rapid technological change, the potential for knee-jerk, ill-considered, ineffective or even misguided policies is clear.
Attempts by governments to block access to sites such as Blogspot, Twitter and You Tube are but the most glaring examples of a greater willingness to police the internet.
Content manipulation and censorship, the arrest and intimidation of bloggers, expanding surveillance and the use of filtering software are the raw material of a mounting assault on digital freedom by law-makers.
Whilst most of Europe’s 800 million citizens enjoy fewer intrusions on their right to a free internet, there is little reason for complacency.
Fears about terrorism, electronic fraud and other crimes and the distribution of child pornography have contributed to increased monitoring and tracking of online behaviour, secrecy in state deliberations and “three strikes” laws.
That is why the Council of Europe urges its 47 member states to adopt a human rights approach to digital policy. It encourages national authorities to resist the temptation to ‘blanket’ block web sites and to avoid “mission creep” when acting against illegal distributors.
These issues and more come under scrutiny in this humanrightseurope podcast which features contributions from Dr Kathrin Voss, a Hamburg University researcher and communications consultant, Ali Novruzov, an Azerbaijan-based blogger and the Council of Europe’s expert Jan Malinowski (photo).
Information: Fighting Cybercrime
Information: Society and Media
Webfile: Personal data protection and privacy
Video: ‘Web Summer’ – Interview with Demi Getschko, CEO of the Brazilian Network Information Centre
Video: ‘Web Summer’ – Interview with Iceland MP Birgitta Jonsdottir
Video: Interview with Daniel Baer, U.S State Department
Podcast: Live from the Internet Freedom Conference
Video: Protecting privacy
News: Protecting the child’s right to ‘online oblivion’
News: Internet rules at center of ‘e-G8′ forum in Paris