AS (2014) CR 14
2014 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday, 9 April 2014 at 10.00 a.m.
Improving user protection and security in cyberspace
The right to Internet access
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr TALIADOUROS (Greece) – The expansion of the Internet has changed the whole world of communication. Nowadays, the Internet offers enormous new possibilities for people to participate in social, cultural and educational life. It has become an essential part of our everyday lives and has transformed the way we live and think.
The right to Internet access is closely linked to the rights of freedom of expression and opinion. The use of the Internet has made it much easier for people to exercise basic rights, such as freedom of expression, the right to information and the freedom of association. In addition, the Internet has extended the possibilities for participation in political life and has become an essential part of modern democracy. Therefore, we have to ensure that Internet access is broadly available for all, and we must preserve its openness and neutrality.
Everyone should have the right to Internet access, regardless of age, place of residence or income. Everyone should be able to receive and exchange information and ideas through the Internet without interference by public authorities.
Consequently, it is necessary for all States to guarantee access to the Internet, to facilitate and improve global access, and to avoid any unreasonable restriction of an individual’s access to information. We have to ensure that everyone can effectively benefit from freedom of information and expression online. Therefore, we should take action to strengthen the protection of the right to access Internet. In particular, everyone should have access to a safe and affordable web connection. A minimum quality of Internet services for all is necessary; the Internet should be available in public places, especially in educational and cultural institutions; public authorities should provide open access to their information and services through the Internet as well, and in this way we can increase government transparency; States should promote the use of the Internet by people with special needs and difficulties; there should be no discrimination in data traffic in order to ensure “net neutrality”; any restrictions to the right to Internet access should be set out by law, pursue a legitimate aim and be justifiable in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity, public safety and the prevention of crime.
Bearing in mind these considerations, I believe that, by taking action and adopting common rules, the effective practice of the right to Internet access should become a reality for us all.
Mr CASEY (Observer from Canada) – As recognised by the rapporteur, Ms Pelkonen, the Internet plays a crucial role in accessing basic and civil rights, and Internet access for all must be a public policy goal to be pursued by our governments.
Electronic services, in addition to, and sometimes in replacement of, traditional services have consistently grown in recent years, and are affecting a variety of areas of daily life, including the essential services offered by governments. We have seen recent examples in Canada with the closure of government offices that once provided in-person services to immigrants, veterans and taxpayers in some regions. Home delivery of mail in urban centres is also now being phased out.
Without equality in Internet access, some groups within our societies could be excluded from the benefits that this technology brings, and could therefore be negatively affected. For example, the elderly, without access to the Internet, could experience difficulties in obtaining some necessary government services. The Internet has the potential to enhance the ability of citizens in all of our countries to contribute to, and participate in our societies, and to facilitate freedom of expression.
In 1994, recognising that some people did not have the financial resources needed to purchase a computer or Internet connection, the Government of Canada developed a national initiative: the Community Access Program. This initiative, which was created with a view to ensuring that Canada’s entire population would have access to the Internet, provided affordable access to computers and an Internet connection, as well as skilled training.
Since the initiative’s establishment, more and more people in Canada now have an Internet connection at home. This led to a decision by the Canadian government to phase out the Community Access Program a few years ago. The result is that Internet access is more difficult for those in rural areas and on the margins of Canadian society.
Since 1994, Internet access in Canada has increased significantly. Fixed and mobile broadband is now available in approximately 99% of all households in Canada. However, Canada is a vast country and while 100% of households in urban areas have access to the Internet, only 85% of households living in rural areas have the same opportunity. Moreover, Canada’s regions vary in terms of the availability of broadband speed. Recognising the importance of Internet service for communication, the Government of Canada has recently introduced new rules that should result in improved universal Internet performance target speeds by the end of next year.
I would like to thank the rapporteur for her work; I share with her the same hope that Internet access will continue to improve and be available to all people in our countries in the coming years.
Mr DOWNE (Observer from Canada) – Technological developments, especially in the fields of digital communications and the Internet, have transformed societies and given new and expanded meanings to the terms “freedom of expression” and “freedom of assembly.” To deny citizens access to the Internet is to deny them vital new means of expression and assembly.
Just recently in a speech to students at Beijing’s Peking University, United States First Lady Michelle Obama spoke of how freedom of expression and open access to information, especially online, is a universal right. She said that the power of technology “can open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we never could have imagined.”
To this end, I am pleased that, in response to a recent attempt to block Twitter in Turkey, the Turkish president posted on Twitter that “a complete ban on social media platforms cannot be approved” and that he hopes “this implementation won’t last long.” He later described the ban as “an unpleasant situation for such a developed country as Turkey, which has weight in the region and which is negotiating with the European Union.”
Internet access is not only crucial for freedom of expression and assembly; without Internet access, citizens also lose educational, cultural and commercial opportunities. As the report before the Council of Europe notes, several global media companies have formed internet.org with the mission of bringing the Internet to “an additional 4 billion people worldwide, in order to overcome barriers in developing countries to connect in cyberspace.”
Canada has an objective of universal, high-speed Internet access and has focused on several problems that pose hurdles to that objective. The most prominent problem addressed has been the digital divide between urban and rural Canadians, but other divides of concern include those based on gender, income and education. An ongoing problem in Canada is the continuing high cost of Internet and wireless service.
We support moves to promote universal Internet access and to put in place domestic policies consistent with a principle noted in the report: “States should recognize the fundamental right to Internet access in law and in practice.”
Mr BIEDROŃ (Poland) – I think that in the contemporary world, access to the Internet has the same value as access to printing machines or other forms of press distribution did in the 20th century. It is fundamental to the running of a modern democracy. Furthermore, many public services, such as banking services, voting instructions, maps and so on are now provided mostly via the Internet. An individual without Internet access cannot be a citizen who fully participates in the social, economic and political life of their country.
On the other hand, Internet access can be used as a means to control society – through surveillance, or through restricting access. Recently, the authorities of a few member States of the Council of Europe – Azerbaijan, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Turkey – were accused by the Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto research group, of using the spyware Remote Control System, capable of downloading and controlling anything on the computer of a person being spied on.
Therefore, first of all, we should take steps to make the right to Internet access a fundamental right, not solely dependent on the politics of regulatory authorities or business enterprises. Every citizen should have an effective right to access the Internet. Secondly, the Internet requires new regulations restricting possible encroachments on this freedom by State authorities; communal access to the Internet should not become just another means by which the authorities can monitor or control citizens’ lives.
Mr NIKOLAIDES (Cyprus) – I would like to thank Ms Pelkonen and congratulate her on a well-written report which deals with a vitally important contemporary issue: the Internet as a human right and as a public good. I fully agree with her that all European citizens should have unobstructed access to the Internet. As the Internet has become one of the principal means of exercising the right to freedom of expression and information, blocking its content, or parts of it, constitutes a blunt violation of human rights. Moreover, the reality is that the Internet is increasingly interwoven with daily life in all societies around the world and any attempt to curtail this interconnectivity would undoubtedly lead to protest and social unrest.
It is for this reason that we have watched with great concern recent developments in Turkey, where the government has blocked popular social media. Such actions not only run counter to the country’s obligations vis-à-vis this Organisation and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, but they also harness the people’s legitimate and safe use of the Internet. As a result, hackers and parallel service providers who operate outside the law may find fertile ground to attract users whose access to the Internet has been hampered.
Of course, the big issue at stake, when it comes to freedom of Internet access, is how to maintain a balance between this freedom and the threat to national public safety and security. As stated in the report, information and communications technology companies must imperatively remain committed to their users’ rights to free expression and privacy. These companies have an obligation to remain the vectors through which protest movements around the world are organised. At the same time, these companies must accept being carefully monitored by government authorities so that any illegal or harmful activities may be tracked down and dealt with in the interest of the general public.
To this end, there is legitimate reason for companies, law enforcement agencies, and governments to co-operate in monitoring online activity. For instance, the grooming and sexual exploitation of children through webcams and other technology warrant maximum protection and filtering, so as to ensure that human rights are protected and respected online too. Similarly, should a State have serious and well-founded concerns, and not just vague and unfounded suspicions, that crime and/or terrorism-related activities and networks are being facilitated through the Internet, there should be a way to resolve such issues through acceptable regulatory initiatives.
The report deals with these issues in a very adequate way, and therefore I fully endorse the draft resolution presented to us. I join my voice in urging responsible action on the part of service providers when dealing with founded government requests to “review” suspect domains. At the same time, commercial providers should be ready to undergo independent assessments to make sure they comply with their human rights obligations and, in so doing, act responsibly and fully co-operate with human rights bodies, specialised non-governmental organisations and governments in shaping public policy on the safe use of the Internet.
Ms ERKAL KARA (Turkey) – I would like to convey my sincere thanks to both rapporteurs for their reports, which provide us with the chance to take stock of the opportunities, as well as the challenges, faced by member States in the governance of the digital world.
The World Wide Web has created many opportunities and certainly revolutionised our way of life. However, we should also be aware of the risks posed by new communications technologies. In this regard, it is of the utmost importance that we strike the right balance between the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy.
Improving user security and protection requires strong co-ordination among all stakeholders, including governments and companies in the internet industry. This co-ordination needs to be carried out in accordance with a legal framework, which should be respected by all related parties. All actors have to abide by the rulings of court.
I would like to draw your attention to the ongoing debate regarding the court rulings and administrative measures taken in Turkey against Twitter and YouTube. Preventive measures against Twitter and YouTube were taken in response to their defiance to comply with court rulings on violations of personal rights and the right to privacy. Please allow me to remind you that similar measures have been taken on the same grounds in several other countries. Removal requests by the governments and other authorities have increased fivefold in 2013. I should underline that these measures have been taken in the interests of national security, and for the protection of personal rights, as well as the right to the respect for one’s private life.
A free society needs free individuals. Turkey remains committed to the protection of the rights of its citizens, including their right to privacy. With this understanding, Turkey will continue to follow the Council of Europe’s values and work in this field. However, there is also a need to reconcile the freedoms with the responsibilities and adopt ethical principles ensuring this delicate balance. I call on all stakeholders, and first and foremost on all companies, to comply with the legislation and court rulings of the States in which they provide services.
Ms MATTILA (Finland) – Cyber-security is part of the national and external security of each State. National security is increasingly linked to external security in the cyber world. On the other hand, the individual is subjected to threats, including identity theft. We should not allow internet activity that can be classified as hate speech, even though I support freedom of speech. We should not in any way make the world a worse place to live in.
Taking care of business online creates opportunities for decentralising the functions of society, which is important for a sparsely populated country such as Finland. But services online must be safe; for example attacks to hinder services is an attack both on the individual and on the society.
Cyber threats cause trouble for the legislators. Sometimes the revision of legislation is at best only a description of the current situation, because what we decree is powerless in the world of megabytes; the Internet has no frontiers and the different legislations in our countries are not always compatible. I strongly believe that we cannot solve everything by law. Again, I want to insist on the need for national cyber-security strategies. Their aim should be unambiguously focused on the security of our society, and the safety and well-being of the individual. The European Union has recently had to take a stance on the information leak between the European Union and the United States. We must restore trust at this level too, and I sincerely hope that our recommendation directed towards the European Union will be taken seriously.
Mr SASI (Finland) – As a result of private initiatives, the Internet has developed extremely rapidly. The development of the Internet and the growth of companies related to it show the force of the market economy. Society must guarantee access to the Internet for all its citizens. Government measures should be considered only in cases where the net does not reach all areas of a country.
Of course Internet access should be subject to charges, but society must count the most necessary internet access as part of its basic social security. Public services online must be free of charge. However, when it comes to other services, citizens must be taught to pay for them, as this is the only way to develop online services.
Mr HANSON (Estonia) – The rapporteurs, Mr Axel Fischer and Ms Jaana Pelkonen, have done a remarkable job on the right to free and secure Internet access – I offer my compliments to both of them for their work. I would like to make three points.
First, I agree with the rapporteur Ms Pelkonen that freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every human being, without which democracy cannot exist. States have an obligation to respect, protect and promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The same rights which people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice. As outlined in the European Convention of Human Rights and the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, any limitations must be provided by law, be necessary in a democratic society and be proportionate. For this reason, I am sceptical about some of the proposed amendments to the text of Ms Pelkonen’s report that stress the role restrictions to the freedom of expression by national law. It is clear from the legal basis of this Organisation that the limitations that governments can impose on the freedom of expression using their own legislation should be exceptions rather than the rule.
Secondly, the informed public, as a guarantee of transparency, forms one of the bases of a democratic society. The Internet and new information technologies contribute to the process of bringing a government closer to its people and ensuring that the executive branch respects, protects and guarantees openness. Access to the Internet gives unlimited possibilities to individuals and a wide range of possibilities to the State to provide public service value. Over the last 15 years, access to the Internet has been transformed from a communication forum into a medium for exercising political rights through general and local elections, as well as a medium for managing banking, health care and administrative systems. I am proud to say that my own country, Estonia, occupies the leading position in the field of e-governance and the providing of public services online. It goes without saying that we are always ready to share our experience.
Thirdly, it is clear that in today’s interconnected world, we need both security and data protection, as elaborated by Mr Fischer in his report. He correctly stresses that further developments in this area are badly needed and that we should keep the option of working towards a global agreement on an open and secure Internet open. In so doing, we should ensure that the Internet remains based on the rooted, bottom-up model, with openness and collaboration at its core. The Council of Europe, as a true multi-stakeholder platform, is very well placed to facilitate the co-existence of different actors and governance systems – national, multi-lateral, civil society and business. For this reason, I am a fervent supporter of the Council of Europe setting the global agenda and developing international standards in this area. For the same reason, I am sceptical about calling on the International Telecommunications Union to draw up standards, even if we just call it technical standards on the integrity and security of the Internet. This Organisation is unfortunately not known for its transparency or multi-stakeholder model; it rather represents a format where only governments retain the control. What is even more alarming, is that some of our colleagues have proposed that the reference to the Council of Europe conventions be deleted in the resolution’s text, which, in this context, would be the only guarantee that human rights are indeed monitored in this process. I hope that this Assembly has the wisdom to vote against those amendments.