PANEL DISCUSSION - Fundamental Freedoms Online

Panel Discussion II - Fundamental Freedoms Online

The panel discussion entitled “Fundamental Freedoms Online”, led by moderator Andrew Puddephatt from Global Partners Digital, considered the full range of issues that fall under the umbrella theme of human rights as applying equally both on- and offline. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, was the first panelist to speak. He mentioned several dimensions of his landmark 2011 UN report that declared Internet access a human right and strongly asserted that human rights and free expression must be at the top of the agenda in any discussions about the Internet. La Rue also drew attention to the critical topic of net neutrality, saying that it is today’s biggest challenge and preserving it will be fundamental for the continued effectiveness of the Internet. Microsoft’s Principal Strategist Mike Nelson offered a business perspective by asserting that commitments to online freedom have to be backed up by market incentives and credible legal enforcement. According to Nelson, it’s been true for years that countries that promote Internet freedom are more successful at attracting top talent than repressive ones, while companies like Microsoft and Google have also undertaken enormous efforts to pressure repressive governments to become more open. Next, Tom Malinowski, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, acknowledged the extraordinary expansion of technological potential for knowing about the lives of normal people and committed the United States not only to having a wide-ranging public conversation about these topics, but also to acknowledging the need for the US to set a good example in online freedom and privacy. Finally, Anja Kovacs, Director of the Internet Democracy Project in India, maintained that all is not well even on the home front and those governments, even FOC governments, must become better at listening to civil society representatives. Additionally, Kovacs cautioned against the artificial separation of the questions of surveillance, Internet governance, and human rights, which are actually intimately linked. The upshot of the panel was that net neutrality, economic incentives, legal architectures, normative expectations, and greater attentiveness are all separate elements of an ongoing discussion about the application of human rights online, and each of the stakeholders would do well to consider the perspectives of, and work more closely with the others in order to reach nuanced and sustainable courses of action.