Media: The Need for an EU Digital Freedom Strategy - New Europe

Marietje
23.9.2012, New Europe After violent protests by extremists in reaction to the "Innocence of Muslims" video, the question whether or not YouTube should take the video offline is fiercely debated. While laws are made on the basis of the nation-state, globally operating internet companies play an ever larger role and are sometimes confronted with serious political pressure. Until now internet governance has developed organically, and overregulation would immediately limit the benefits internet has brought people all over the world. At the same time, technological developments impact the full range of trade, development, human rights and security policies. The EU should integrate the use of technologies in various policies to ensure relevance and leadership in its foreign policies in this hyper-connected world. A quick scan of some events in the world shows that the struggle for human rights has moved online. Prisons are increasingly populated by dissidents confronted with their own internet and mobile communications, compromised by the authorities. Iran continues the building of an electronic curtain, which eventually will cut off the Iranians from the World Wide Web through the creation of a 'Halal internet'. China is similarly cutting its citizens off of the open internet with the great electronic firewall. Mass censorship violates citizen rights and narrows business opportunities. Technological developments also lead to unprecedented opportunities and can enable fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and assembly, access to information, and the documentation and sharing of human rights violations. Several EU Member States have identified access to internet as a fundamental right, and the European Commission agrees digital freedoms are part of the Copenhagen criteria. There are several areas in this digital world in which it is essential that the EU acts as a global player and leverages its economic and political weight. Though overregulation would rather hurt than help the potential of the open internet, in some areas rules need to be updated to match the revolutionary impact of technological developments with adequate democratic oversight. Generally speaking, the fight for control and power by authoritarian regimes involves a growing ICT component. While training human rights defenders, journalists and dissidents should improve their safety online it also creates a new set of sensitivities and a potentially dangerous dependency on the accuracy and quality of the guidance. Human rights defenders deserve EU support and in any case should not be targeted with tools and technologies developed and exported from within the EU. The digital and globally connected reality also requires awareness and responsibility in European corporate boardrooms. More transparency and accountability are needed. The European Commission should in turn help companies, in doubt whether to file for an export license, with real time information about the legality or potential harmful effects of trade deals. The same goes for EU (based) companies that enter into contractual relations with third country governments, whether to win operating licenses, negotiate standstill clauses or by accepting public involvement in business operations or public use of their networks and services, and which could force these businesses becoming complicit in human rights violations. As technology is developing so rapidly it is essential to promote structural collaboration between politicians, business and civil society. Only by mainstreaming the role of technology in EU trade, security and foreign policies, by aligning our values and interests the EU can fully leverage its power and act as a global player. Marietje Schaake is a Member of the European Parliament for Dutch party D66 and a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party Group, she is on the culture and US Affairs Committees.