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Internet is the New Frontline in the Work for Freedom in the World

Internet is the New Frontline in the Work for Freedom in the World

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Responses - Stakeholder Government & Parliament

Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden

The age of the information society bears a potential that we have only begun to fully understand. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have become vital for the essential functions of society, vital for the health and benefit of our citizens and for the safeguarding of our democratic values.

Carl Bildt.jpg
Carl Bildt is Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs and adviser to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). He was the Prime Minister of Sweden between 1991 and 1994. From 1999 to 2001, he served as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the Balkans.

The internet has indeed also become a catalyst for the development of the international system. Bilateral diplomacy once served as the basis for the development of multilateral diplomacy when setting up our international organisations. Now, in the internet era, we are entering a phase of multistakeholder diplomacy, where governance of the internet has to be resolved together with all stakeholders. Many fields of international law place the emphasis on individuals rather than states. Likewise, the benefit of the internet has been particularly utilised by creative individuals and businesses, not states. Thus, multistakeholder participation in internet governance is of paramount importance. Without it, this crucial creativity and interaction will disappear. And, in this respect, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a good case in point.

I have been clear on this point before: the internet is the new frontline in the work for freedom in the world. This is why internet freedom is a cornerstone of Swedish foreign policy. The fundamental principle of internet freedom is that the entitlement of all individuals to enjoy human rights also applies to the internet. In July this year this seemingly simple but, until then, far from uncontroversial principle was affirmed by consensus in the UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution 20/8. The broad support for the resolution illustrates that the free flow of information on the internet is a global call and not something pushed for by only a few Western states. This call must be echoed in all fora where internet issues are discussed, including the IGF.

The IGF was created as a global platform for broad discussion on the subject of the internet, its current challenges and its future prospects. Over the years, as the IGF has toured the world from Athens to Baku, a few observations can be made. The first is that the global debate on internet issues has certainly maintained its relevance and importance. As the internet has become accessible to millions of new users, they too need a place in the discussions on how the internet should be run. The second important observation is that the debate in the IGF today – to a much larger extent than in its early days – focuses on how to maintain the internet’s basic features of accessibility and openness. This trend is certainly welcome, and I believe an even further deepening of a human rights perspective in the IGF would be fruitful.

An uncensored, free and open internet is a key condition for economic, social and political development. The fact that the governance of the internet has been left outside the exclusive control of governments has been key to its success. However, there are those who question the current internet governance model. We should certainly reflect upon how the current model can be improved, in particular how to more effectively include internet users in the developing world. In addition to this, it is central for us to maintain the core of the governance model: it should remain a multistakeholder process, where effective participation should be ensured for all relevant stakeholders. Otherwise, we would certainly risk hampering the economic potentials of the internet – not least for the developing world. On this point we should be clear; the future of the internet is not to place more responsibility in the hands of governments. This is a point of departure that should be kept in mind as we prepare for several important international meetings in the near future, such as the WCIT conference in December.

As we promote freedom on the internet, we must also address security of the internet. Protecting the digital flows and our digital systems is key to the onward success of globalisation. We should also recognise that an increasingly digitalised society leads to increased vulnerability, for individuals, businesses and states alike. Security in an increasingly interconnected world will, to a great extent, revolve around protecting “flows” of different kinds. Cyber attacks, cyber espionage and cyber crime are no longer tales of fiction and these risks and vulnerabilities need to be addressed. Today, this also implies challenges as our traditional tools of addressing these risks have yet to adapt to the global and boundless nature of cyberspace.

In taking on these challenges, we must begin by engaging in an international discussion on norms of responsible state behaviour – state-to-state behaviour as well as state-to-individual behaviour. Despite the particular character of the internet, our established international criteria and legal frameworks do not change. The basis of such a discussion is that existing international law is applicable and that universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law guide our dialogue on norms in cyberspace. It is of utmost importance that we do not let legitimate reasons of security create pretexts for authoritarian regimes to restrict individuals’ freedoms and human rights. We do this by not separating issues of security from issues of freedom, and by clarifying what we mean by security as well as freedoms. In a modern world, the security of the individual, the rights of the individual and the needs of the individual are put at the centre. Security is needed in order to safeguard our core values of democracy such as freedom of expression, openness, the right to privacy and the rule of law. This is not done by silencing the very same people that states are obliged to protect. In fact, a free and secure flow of information contributes to global democratisation and creates long-term international security. Democratic and open societies are vulnerable by nature but simultaneously much more resilient than non-democratic societies. In other words: freedom and democracy enables security. At the same time, security is necessary to protect freedom.

There are clear links between internet freedom, security, trade and development. For instance, a secure and reliable internet enables free and open trade and supports business opportunities. And approaching cyberspace policy holistically is necessary in order to enhance the benefits of the internet for all stakeholders and for all countries. The Human Rights Council has taken a landmark decision, and this is one important step in operationalising our most important principle. Namely, that the same internationally established rights that we enjoy in the offline world also apply in the online world. However, we still have more work to do, on a broader front and in other fora. Only by recognising that democratic governance is key to maintaining freedom, security and development will we be able to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.

Sweden will continue to advocate an open, global, secure and viable internet where individual freedom and security are put at the forefront so as to create the best possible conditions for true development. And we will do this in multiple fora. Our vision is for the EU to adopt a comprehensive cyber space strategy that embeds the fundamental values of the European Union in its internal and external cyber policy and enables the EU to strategically tackle the area. And in the UN, we will build on the work done in Geneva as we increase our efforts in New York and in the General Assembly. In this work, we will continue to forge strategic alliances as we confirm our very basic but firm principle: our rights in the offline world are equally applicable in the online world.

Gordon Süß
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