Highlights from the speakers of the #IGF2013 opening session

Human rights were at the centre of the interventions of most of the speakers of the IGF opening ceremony explicitly, making the ones who didn’t became hard to ignore. Here are some of the interventions of the speakers:

Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, UNDESA, was the first of many who made reference to the Snowden revelations:

A major issue that has arisen over the past year is that of surveillance of the Internet. Although concerns about national security and criminal activity may justify exceptional and narrowly tailored use of surveillance, any surveillance without safeguards to protect the right to privacy hampers fundamental freedoms. People should feel secure in the knowledge that their private communications are not being unduly or unjustly scrutinized by the state or by other actors.

Titaful Sembiring, Minister of communication and information technology of Indonesia, focused on the threats that the extension of access brings along (and omitted to mention human rights).

The rapid expansion of technology and Internet also creates challenges which threaten individuals, societies, and even nations and may lead to tensions and eventually conflicts. It widens the multidimensional divide among the societies and also creates other issues such as cyber crimes, the questions of ethics in the virtual world, vulnerability from exploitation, exposure to danger, and deception when using the internet and digital illiteracy, which emanates due to the progressive rate of unemployment in developing countries.

Elmir Valizada, Minister of Communications and technology of the Republic of Azerbaijan, presented his countries initiatives in the development of ICTs, but omitted any references to human rights. Meanwhile, international organisations report on reiterated violations of freedom of expression.

Paulo Bernardo Silva, from the Minister of Communications from the Republic of Brazil, was one of the most outspoken critics of the current state of surveillance; Brazil is also been on the spotlight after the public condemnation of its president before the UN General Assembly earlier in October, and its proposal for a new space for internet governance.

We need to build a new model for Internet Governance which allows us to achieve all these possibilities, a model which is truly democratic and transparent, ensuring human rights, freedom of expression, privacy, security, and respect for the sovereignty of all countries.

However, we do not want just any Internet. The Internet is not a mere measure of technological or economic development in a certain society. It is, rather, an instrument to the benefit of humankind. It must be employed in favor of the progress of peoples and nations. The usage of cyberspace for obtaining information in an unauthorized way or for the violation of fundamental rights is not ethical. It has harmful effects on the unicity and globality of the Internet.

At the same time, the asymmetry and uneven distribution of economic resource that is characterizes the Internet today has generated a disproportionate competitive advantage to one single market. What contributes to the fragmentation is the decades-long prevalence of excessive unilaterality and centrality regarding connectivity and storage of data and information. The Internet has been open to everything except the way it is governed.

Shadi Abou-Zahra, from Web Accessibility Initiative, WA and, World Wide Web Consortium, W3C, focused his intervention on inclusiveness and how providing access to people with disabilities benefits us all.

The Internet is of utter importance to people with disabilities. Never before has there been such an opportunity for people with disabilities to participate equally in society. It helps people to combat poverty and social exclusion that affect many people with disabilities all around the world. It empowers people to be active members of society and live with independence and dignity rather than on welfare and depending on others.

Unfortunately, there are still many accessibility barriers that prevent people with disabilities from benefiting from the unique and unprecedented opportunity that the Internet provides. But it’s exactly this lack of participation of people with disabilities that contributes to lack of awareness about the need for accessibility. In turn, it leads to yet more exclusion and promotes a vicious cycle that we, together, have to break.

Human rights were central to the intervention of Sabine Verheyen, member of the European Parliament for Aachen, Germany. It also stated the position of the EP against supranational organisations taking a more prominent role in internet governance.

Establishing a business environment that creates opportunities and safeguards fair competition on the one hand, and on the other hand, securing citizens’ rights and allow users to fully benefit from the advantages of an open, transparent, and fair Internet. Guaranteeing freedom of expression, free flow of information, and access for everyone, as well as taking care of individual rights and business will remain the benchmarks of our approach.

The European Parliament has always rejected any ideas of making chances to the international telecommunication which would generally give regulatory power over the Internet to supernatural government organisation. A centralized governance of the Internet is certainly nothing which is desired on European level.

Janice Karklins from UNESCO highlighted the organisation’s promotion of human rights to freedom of expression, and on universal access.

[Freedom of expression should also be] safeguarded on the Internet and, consequently, reflected in the Internet Governance policies and practices, also upholding other rights such as privacy and security of the person.

Internet Governance must ensure universal access to information and knowledge. Some commentators still link the access question simply to infrastructure issues, while access for all is much more complex. It also requires us to overcome language, content, and capacity challenges. The opportunity to use one’s language on the Internet has a direct impact on the number of citizens who can benefit from such technology.

Ambassador Danny Sepulveda, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, briefly mentioned the Snowden revelations but call to call on other aspects of internet governance, where, according to him, the private sector has an important role to play.

The Internet’s universal deployment will depend on all of us encouraging and enabling private investment in technology and infrastructure that will drive down the cost of access.

I can assure you that the United States takes your concerns, those that many of you have expressed regarding recent NSA disclosures, very, very seriously. And I certainly understand the desire to raise related issues here. As with all difficult issues that are discussed in this Forum over the years, let us remain good stewards of the Internet. As we mark the opening of the IGF, let us use this time together to construct solutions to the digital divide. Let us work cooperatively to improve the trust, confidence, and security of our networks. Let us continue to promote an open Internet that can serve as a platform for innovation and job growth.

Nnenna Nwakanma, civil society, Africa Regional Coordinator, World Wide Web Foundation, mentioned both human rights and development.

We seem to be moving farther from human rights as we move further on the Internet Governance process. I strongly believe, and the civil society as well, that human rights needs to make a come-back in the IGF and be kept at centre stage

We must never lose focus that our collective effort in the Internet Governance process is aimed at making the Internet a tool for poverty reduction, for health service delivery, for education at all levels, for the economic well-being of our world.

Ms. Lynn St. Amour, President and CEO of the Internet Society, also mentioned government surveillance.

There is a cloud over all our efforts. The widespread covert government-sanctioned surveillance activities recently revealed have provided new challenges to all of us, alarming challenges. Any actions, even those justified on the grounds of national security, that interfere with the privacy of its own citizens or of other nations’ citizens is wrong. Many of the ideas being promoted in response to these surveillance issues support a reductive model with a focus on security, risk mitigation, or control through digital borders, and this is worrisome.

Joseph Alhadeff, Chair of the International Chamber’s Digital Economy Commission, mentioned freedom of expression and its relationship to trade and competitive markes.

Business strongly supports the freedom of expression and the free flow of information in a manner that respects the rights of others and the rule of law. Governments should work together with business and other stakeholders to develop policies and practices to maximize freedom of expression and the free flow of information over the Internet and to minimize trade barriers so that companies of all sizes have an ability to engage in legitimate commercial activity.

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