Protecting human rights online: The freedom online coalition

20 Dec 2017 17:15h - 18:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

Session moderator Mr Andrew Puddephatt, Head of the FOC Support Unit, presented the Freedom Online Coalition’s plan for 2018, coordinating efforts from all regions of the world to advance Internet Freedom.  He noted that the network was launched in 2011 at a meeting in The Hague with 11 member countries, which have now grown to 30 before turning the floor over to panellists.

Mr Piret Urb from the Unit of International Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia  chronicled the work of the FOC since the 2013-2014 work of Estonia, followed by Mongolia, Costa Rica, and now Germany. He noted that necessary updated terms of reference are now in place, together with new efforts for enhanced cooperation, especially with civil society and multistakeholder involvement.. He added that the FOC is now one of the leading forces in global norm development on human rights online. He highlighted the mutual support of and for the FOCs Digital Defenders Partnership whose members are especially important for digital voices online.

Amb. Thomas Fitschen, Director for the United Nations, Cyber Foreign policy and Counterterrorism for the Government of Germany presented the German work program for the FOC in 2018. He said that the FOC is a group of governments deeply committed to human rights and fundamental freedom as proclaimed in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He added that the new Stockholm frame of reference added an advisory network which must be developed and transformed. Three target areas have been identified for activity:

  • Establishing global norms that prevent and limit state sponsored restrictions online
  • Supporting  Civil Society voices online
  • Promoting and protecting human rights in the context of cybersecurity

He concluded that the new framework of references introduced observer status for countries that are not prepared to be formal members to support the FOC priority bring in more countries as members or observers, especially from Asia, South America, and Africa.

Ms Katharine Kendrick, former co-Chair of FOC Working Group 3 ‘Privacy and Transparency Online’ and International Public Policy Manager for Airbnb, Inc. explained the role of the advisory network. She said the network will have 20 members from different sectors and regions who will collect information from stake  holder s and link with government. Two of them will be co-chairs. She concluded that experience shows that the opportunity to have a forum for civil society engage with governments is very important for the FOC working groups..

Mr Matthew Shears, Former Co-hair FOC Working Group 1 ‘An Internet Free and Secure’, Independent policy consultant, and ICANN Board Member, described the relationship between the FOC and the Advisory Network.  He said the Advisory Network most importantly will provide advice and recommendations, participate in working groups and recommend topics for development of FOC statements. Shears also emphasised two features that are particularly important for success. The first is the importance of two-way engagement, and the second, frequent and informal engagement between he FOC and the advisory network.

Dynamic audience interventions noted the importance of the new framework to enhance collaboration, appreciate the excellent relationship between the FOC and the Digital Defenders Partnership, and the significance for the FOC’s credentials to carry out these new commitments. Member compliance, and specifics of possible termination of memberships were discussed, noting that the issue is out to governments for consultation.

Ms Melody Patry, Advocacy Director from Access Now commented from the audience on the FOCs statement last year ‘against intentional state-sponsored destruction of access to or dissemination of information online’ involving Internet shutdowns or Internet disruptions.  However, she noted that last year, the largest number of Internet disruptions – 77 – was recorded. She asked whether disruptions and particularly disruptions during elections could be addressed. Another audience member from Kenya brought up a similar concern about Internet outages during elections.

These concerns about Internet shutdowns were addressed by the panel moderator, and by audience participant Mr Jason Pielemeier, Policy Director for the Global Network Initiative, who supported the need to address challenges of this kind, especially since they are likely to continue, and reiterated the need to work in collaboration to address them as a priority.

By Foncham Denis Doh