European Parliament endorses first ever Digital Freedom Strategy

A large majority of the European Parliament today endorsed the first ever Digital Freedom Strategy in the EU’s foreign policy.

I’m very happy with the wide support my report received. The Parliament now unequivocally acknowledges that digital freedoms, like uncensored access to the internet, are fundamental rights which deserve equal protection as traditional human rights. My strategy sets out a number of concrete points of action to be incorporated in the EU’s trade and development policies. New technologies bring huge opportunities, but people can only really enjoy them if we also tackle the threats emerging from the rise of ICTs, for example by authoritarian regimes.  I want to express my gratitude to everyone who contributed to the report via my website, Facebook or Twitter. New technologies also offer ways for politicians to make better policies by working together with experts, voters and anyone interested. I pledge to continue doing so. Much work now has to be done to turn policies into concrete actions, for which I will need your support.

I’m looking forward to continue joining hands in promoting and defending digital freedoms, both within the EU and far beyond.

Kind regards,

Marietje Schaake

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European Parliament endorses first ever Digital Freedom Strategy

With a large majority the European Parliament today adopted the first ever Digital Freedom Strategy in the EU’s foreign policy. Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake (D66/ALDE) and Rapporteur for the report is happy with the broad support. Schaake: “The Parliament unequivocally acknowledges that digital freedoms, like uncensored access to the internet, are fundamental rights which deserve equal protection as traditional human rights. I have set out a number of concrete points of action to be incorporated in the EU’s trade and development policies. New technologies bring huge opportunities, but people can only really enjoy them if we also tackle the threats emerging from the rise of ICTs, for example by authoritarian regimes.”

Struggle for human rights

Over the past months Schaake has managed to put the revolutionary impact of the internet and new technologies on societies and our day-to-day lives on the EU’s political agenda. “The struggle for human rights increasingly has a technological side”, Schaake says. “Prisons are populated by dissidents confronted with their own internet and mobile communications.Irancontinues the building of a virtual bunker, which eventually will cut off the Iranians from the World Wide Web through the creation of a ‘Halal Internet’. Plans are presented to make anonymous blogging inChinaillegal andRussiais stepping up the monitoring of online traffic.”

Concrete actions

Unrestricted access to an open internet is an important enabler of fundamental rights, an indispensable prerequisite for enjoying universal human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and for ensuring transparency and accountability in public life. Schaake’s report on A Digital Freedom Strategy in EU Foreign Policy includes many concrete measures. EU’s trade and association agreements, development programs and accession negotiations should be made conditional on respect for digital freedoms. Collected digital evidence, like smart phone pictures and clips of human rights violations should be admissible in court proceedings. Moreover, the EU should stop the export of digital arms: technologies used by authoritarian regimes to track and trace human rights activists, journalists and dissidents. “These kinds of exports toIran and Syria are blocked now”, Schaake says. “But we need rules and regulations that ensure accountability of companies regarding the impact of their products and software, like misuse for human rights violations. We should think about ‘human rights by design’ to prevent or limit future harm.”

Credibility

The EU should help build the basic ICT infrastructure in developing counties, and provide wireless tablets to enable (online) education. To be a credible defender and advocate the EU domestically has to maintain high standards of digital freedom. The strategy calls on the EU to codify the principle of net neutrality, like the Netherlands did in 2012. European companies forced by third country government to take down online content, should be able to count on political backing from European authorities like the High Representative for Foreign Policy or the EU’s Trade Commissioner.

Global player

The EU should globally take the lead in promoting and protecting digital freedoms, Schaake explains. “EU is the world’s largest trading block, but it is also a community of values. It should use its power and act as a global player. The global and borderless nature of the Internet requires new forms of international cooperation and governance with multiple stakeholders. Technologies should be used to promote transparency and freedom.”

Crowd-sourced report

MEP Schaake used an innovative way of writing her report. She posted a discussion paper online on the EU’s digital freedom strategy in its external actions, and invited various stakeholders to provide input through crowd-sourcing. Many internet users, NGO’s, governments and businesses did so. “This is one of the many opportunities of the Internet: bridging the gap between citizens and politics”, says Schaake.

Please find the full report here.

 
Presentation of the report in the Parliament’s plenary meeting


 

Marietje Schaake, rapporteur − Madam President, this report is mainly directed at High Representative Ashton and her External Action Service. Technological developments have a revolutionary impact on the lives of people all over the world. Several EU Member States, and the United Nations, have now identified access to the Internet as an enabler of fundamental rights, and the Commission agrees that digital freedoms are part of the Copenhagen criteria.

Initial policy steps through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and the No Disconnect Strategy are welcome, but we need to be much more ambitious. Tomorrow, we vote for the first strategy to mainstream technologies into the EU’s external actions. I am not suggesting over-regulation – that would hurt the open Internet – but in some policy areas rules are needed and need to be updated to match the revolutionary impact of technological developments with adequate democratic oversight.

The Commission is working on a cyber security plan which this Parliament is eagerly awaiting, but let us ensure that there is no zero-sum game between cyber security and digital freedoms. We must put people first. The struggle for human rights has a growing technology component: prisons are increasingly populated by dissidents confronted with their own Internet and mobile communications having been compromised by the authorities. People facing repression deserve EU support, and in any case should not be targeted with tools and technologies developed and exported from within the EU. Promoting and defending human rights also means enabling people to circumvent mass censorship and to evade cyber attacks.

While the recent EU export bans on repressive technologies to Syria and Iran are important ad hoc sanctions, generally, more transparency and accountability are needed. Technologies, tools or services custom-made for targeted human rights violations should be categorised separately, as single-use technologies, and should be restricted. An EU law for intercept standards without the context of the rule of law loses all meaning.

In trade agreements, but also in development assistance, we need to include digital freedoms in conditionalities and to enforce them. There are a lot of opportunities in EU development policies: we can bridge the digital divide, build and install basic ICT infrastructures, provide people with access to knowledge and information, and enable online education in remote areas.

In the first critical hours after natural disasters or during humanitarian crises, ad hoc emergency mobile and Internet connections should be set up. ICTs are also essential for effective citizen election monitoring. In turning these opportunities into actions we must be vigilant and recall that the EU cannot credibly promote or protect digital freedoms in the world if they are not safeguarded at home.

European companies should be reminded of their corporate social responsibilities. We need human rights impact assessments in the R&D phase and must implement the concept of human rights by design. The External Action Service should take the lead in globally promoting and protecting digital freedoms by synergising trade, security and foreign policies, and by aligning our EU values and interests. We need to do justice to the new reality that technological developments create and update our laws and regulations to mainstream digital freedom.

Presidents, governments cannot do this alone and the private sector has increasing responsibilities. The Internet is now governed by a so-called multi-stakeholder approach which developed organically into a network of public and private stakeholders. This model can only function when it is inclusive, including small businesses, Internet users and consumers, who need a seat at the table. We must consider the Internet public and public interests.

I would like to thank the shadows who contributed to this and all the stakeholders who gave their input to the discussion paper. This report was crowd-sourced, which is another reminder of how technology can assist democracy, and create more openness and participation within the EU too.

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