Freedom of expression and the internet: How to reconcile practice and principles?

By FD Publisher: APCNews     MONTREAL,

How do we reconcile theory and practice when it comes to freedom of expression and the internet? From May 14 to 18, Geneva will be hosting the WSIS Forum 2012, where the Association for Progressive Communications has organised two thematic workshops, one of them about freedom of expression and the internet.

WSIS stands for World Summit on the Information Society, an international event held in two phases (Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005), organised by the International Telecommunications Union after a resolution was passed at the UN General Assembly. Since 2005, there have been many follow-up meetings attended by states, private companies and civil society organisations. So you’re scratching your head and asking yourself why you should care about yet another WSIS Forum? The truth of the matter is that global internet governance and human rights related to the internet are in flux, as they are being discussed and negociated as we speak.

This is also why the APC, as a civil society network, is investing in the WSIS Forum. More bluntly, “we think that internet rights are human rights,” says Joy Liddicoat of APC. “We’ve been involved in many international discussions to defend principles and values related to an open internet. The WSIS Forum is a good place to share our rationale around freedom of expression particularly,” insists the author of an Issue paper on the matter:

The workshop is organised in cooperation with the Internet Society:

In just under two hours on May 17, the Internet Society’s Markus Kummer will moderate a panel on freedom of expression with panelists Theresa Swineheart of Verizon co. (US), Lee Hibbard of the Council of Europe (France), David Souter of consultancy ict Development Associates (UK), Nicolas Seidler of the Internet Society (CH) and Cynthia Wong of the Center for Democracy & Technology (US).

Background on freedom of expression and the internet

The issue of freedom of expression on the internet has come to the fore in recent years. The borderless and interactive internet has set the ground for increased opportunities for the right to share, receive and impart information and opinion regardless of frontiers and through any media, such as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and reflected in several international, regional and national instruments. The internet has certainly demonstrated an exceptional ability in upholding fundamental rights and democratic principles.

It is generally agreed today that citizens should enjoy fundamental human rights, such as freedom of expression, equally both offline and online. However, there has been in recent years a multiplication of public policy initiatives that seem, in certain cases, to encourage the use of technical measures beyond those agreed upon in circumstances under which freedom of expression can be retrained.

There is no doubt today that technology empowers internet users, civil society, business and governments, resulting in both opportunities and challenges. In a context of rapid legal and policy changes, the debate is no more about whether the right to freedom of expression applies to online activities, but focuses rather on its concrete implementation, i.e. at the intersection of technology and human rights.

Do new technical possibilities justify taking restrictive measures on freedom of expression? What are the fundamental legal and technical frameworks for the exercise of free expression online? How to reconcile practice and human rights standards, and ensure they reinforce each other? What is good behaviour for actors who have an impact on individuals’ ability to enjoy their fundamental rights online?

Tune in to our Twitter feed to keep on top of these questions and to follow the workshop in real time:

More information about the Freedom of expression and the Internet workshop organised by APC
More information about the Television White Spaces (TVWS) workshop organised by APC
More information about the WSIS Forum 2012
More information about APC’s Connect Your Rights campaign

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