APC’s human rights specialist Joy Liddicoat attended the Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) meeting in Tallinn, Estonia. FOC is inter-governmental coalition made up of 23 governments committed to advancing Internet freedom – free expression, association, assembly, and privacy online .
This was the first global meeting after NETmundial, and key stakeholders were able to continue the discussion that started in Sao Paulo, especially in terms of surveillance. Several civil society organisations worked together to include strong human rights language into the final declaration from NETMundial.
The meeting also took place against the backdrop of the changed security situation in Europe in last few months, particularly with the situation in the Ukraine. The President of Estonia highlighted this noting that Estonia, which shares a border with Russia, sees a tense and worsening situation given Russian actions, including the use of propaganda tools which have prepared the ground for military presence.
The Coalition released its Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online. The Agenda emphasises that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and that the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and security online are complementary concepts.” The Agenda also contained explicit reference to the “economic, cultural and social benefits” of the internet – a clear recognition of the relevance of economic, cultural and social rights to internet related policy.
Civil society remained concerned that the Agenda did not strongly condemn mass surveillance. This was highlighted by revelations from Edward Snowden that the United States of America government was spying in human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch In response, civil society groups wrote to FOC members and the US and United Kingdom governments in particular, seeking answers- .
The lack of an official response and the so far implausible denials of specific concerns are deeply worrying and the lack of strong condemnation about mass surveillance in general by the Coalition is also disappointing and unacceptable. Instead, the Agenda simply recognised “the growing global concern about surveillance practices which may have a negative impact on human rights online, particularly the right to privacy, as set out in the article 17 in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and freedom of expression”.
Coalition governments can and must do more to protect and respect human rights online. One of our civil society roles is to be telling them so clearly and demanding specific actions to demonstrate transparency and accountability. One of these agreed at the Tallinn meeting was for Coalition members to meet with civil society before the United Nations Human Rights Council session on privacy in a digital age (scheduled for September 2014 on which APC has joined with other civil society groups in making submissions)
We will be staying active in our follow up and engagement with the Coalition’s work.