A man during the 2011 Egyptian protests carrying a card saying "Facebook, #jan25, The Egyptian Social Network" illustrating the vital role played by social networks in initiating the uprising.
Photo: Essam Sharaf
Human Rights – offline, online, all the time and everywhere
Internet freedom is in decline. However, the threats we are facing must be viewed as a negative side-effect of otherwise extraordinary positive developments. This positive narrative of the Internet must be maintained, writes Annika Ben David, Ambassador of Sweden for Human Rights and Marcin de Kaminski, Policy Specialist on ICT/Freedom of Expression, Sida.
Last month, we participated in the fifth annual meeting of the Freedom Online Coalition – a unique network of 30 governments. It is the only such body of its kind globally. At its yearly conference – which this year was hosted in Costa Rica – governments, academia, private sector and civil society meet in discussions and processes aiming to promote and protect human rights and freedom online.
Internet freedom is in decline. In the last years more governments censored public information of public interest, state authorities jailed more users for their online writing, and cyber-surveillance power increased as bans on encryption and anonymity tools became more common. There has been more repressive legislation, violence and the spread of state-controlled propaganda and disinformation. Such measures limit and restrict the participation of citizens in society, undermining the very foundation of democracy.
The threats we are facing must be viewed as a negative side-effect of otherwise extraordinary positive developments. Thanks to the internet and social media, human rights are more widely known worldwide than ever before. This positive narrative of the Internet must be maintained.
International platforms for coordination of internet freedom
The Freedom Online Coalition plays an increasingly important role, given global developments with regard to a shrinking democratic space and human rights being questioned and challenged on all continents of the world.
For Sweden, human rights are a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Our take on global internet issues stems from this tenet. We take a human rights-based approach to cyber security and to ICT in general. Together with the Stockholm Internet Forum, the Freedom Online Coalition provides an excellent platform for international coordination and exchange on internet freedom.
Our human rights-based approach is the starting point and the added value that Sweden brings into the discussion on global internet affairs.
We must bridge the digital divide
Another key element for Sweden is the need to bridge the gender digital divide. Just as there is a divide between those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, there is a divide between women and men's access to the net. Not least from a standpoint of human rights, men and women should have the same access to the net.
Internet access means greater chances for development in all senses of the term. Countries with a free and open internet environment, where online human rights are protected and upheld, experience greater economic benefits than those countries with an internet that is overly regulated or where human rights are not protected. Internet freedom thus means smart economics. Internet is now the central infrastructure of the world and is at the core of most human activity. By limiting internet freedom we are limiting our own development.
Put an end to gender-based online abuse
Gender-based online discrimination and abuse must end. Female journalists, bloggers and activist are more likely to suffer harassment and intimidation on the net, not because of what they write but because of their gender. In Sweden, one in every four female journalists has suffered on-line abuse based on gender.
This shows why Sweden's priorities are central and crucial in the international discussions on the governance and future of a free, open and secure Internet.
Annika Ben David
Ambassador of Sweden for Human Rights
Marcin de Kaminski
Policy Specialist ICT/Freedom of Expression, Sida