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

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