“Freedom of expression and security on the Internet are not contradictory but complementary values in the information society.” According to UNESCO, this was one of the outcomes of a very well-attended workshop entitled “Freedom of Expression as a Security Issue” held as part of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The international and multistakeholder conference ran from November 12 to 15, 2007, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The workshop, which was jointly hosted by the Council of Europe, the OSCE media freedom representative, and UNESCO, brought together experts from Europe, India, and the United States.
UNESCO’s press release notes that Anita Gurumurthy of IT for Change in India stressed the importance of not opposing freedom of expression and security. “The right balance between them should stem from a democratic dialog between the state and its people,” she said. “Because the Internet—through its inherent openness—challenges the traditional paradigm for this balance, it is important to watch out for states putting unjustified restrictions on the Internet with reference to security interests,” said Ms. Gurumurthy.
UNESCO reports that Bob Boorstin, Google’s US policy communications director, stressed in his presentation that his company always tried to maximize freedom of expression for all users, while noting that Google was bound by local laws and attentive to local cultural traditions. “If accepting not putting a few percent of the potential information volume on the Net in a given country will result in us having the permission to put up all the other texts, we are willing to respect this instead of seeing all the information being removed,” he said. “It is, however, a thin line you have to walk, and we are therefore within the industry discussing how to establish a code of conduct for these dilemma situations,” he concluded.
For his part, continues the UNESCO press release, leading Council of Europe expert Karol Jacubowiz warned against corporations and governments narrowing the Internet’s openness. “States should not use security arguments as a pretext to curb freedom of expression,” he said. The press release recalls that M. Jacubowiz also gave examples of good policy standards introduced by the Council of Europe “that had successfully reconciled freedom of expression and security issues, such as the conventions to combat cybercrime and to protect children from sexual exploitation or abuse.”
According to UNESCO, “the discussion clearly showed that the participants in the workshop wanted industry’s Internet content management to comply fully with human rights standards, particularly concerning the right to freedom of expression and information regardless of frontiers.”
The Internet Governance Forum is a UN process that meets annually. It originated from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and addresses emerging issues of Internet governance in the fields of openness, security, access, and diversity. The next IGF will take place in December 2008 in New Delhi, India.
It should be further noted that the IGF website has links to documents issued before and after the forum’s second edition. Among other things, we invite you to take a look at the summary prepared by the event’s chair, which details discussion of linguistic diversity during the workshop.