EIF debate on human rights aspects of ICT

25 April 2012 Author: EIFonline

The EIF breakfast debate on 25 April focused on the topic of Human Rights and ICT, with Marietje Schaake MEP and EIF Governor introducing the speakers.

First up was Andrea Glorioso, Coordinator of the Internet Policy and Governance Team at the European Commission DG INFSO. Glorioso took the EU communication on the Arab Spring as his jumping-off point. "The topic of internet freedom has become politically sexy", he noted. The question for DG INFSO is what can be done of real, practical value. Glorioso observed how naive many human rights activists still are about information security - despite recent events. DG INFSO is holding a forum 7 May in connection with the "No Disconnect Strategy" and the FIRE project (partly intended to provide human rights activists with helpful ICT tools to protect their communications). Glorioso said that it's no good giving people tools if you don't teach them how to use them properly.

Next up was Margaret Wachenfeld, Senior Legal Advisor at the Institute for Human Rights and Business. She noted that there is a growing awareness in the business community of the human rights implications to doing business with problematic governments and it's no longer acceptable to just hide under a rock. As an aside, Wachenfeld observed that it's not only governments "out there" but, increasingly, our own governments which would censor and monitor the internet. She spoke at some length about the UN's Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (issued June 2011). Wachenfeld stressed the need for businesses to do proper due diligence prior to entering new markets and business relationships and that when uncertainty exists it's better to err on the side of transparency.

The last speaker was Daniel Calingaert, Vice President of Policy and External Affairs at Freedom House. Freedom House has some considerable civil rights expertise after nearly 40 years of monitoring abuses. Calingaert said they are trying to provide the same type of monitoring for internet freedom (although the scope is limited at present.) It's often the case, he noted, that national governments are trying to promote liberty while at the same time domestic businesses are selling questionable technology to the "bad guys". Calingaert gave a rundown of several notable cases, from the Yahoo and Cisco cases with the Chinese government several years back to the TeliaSonera AB case several weeks ago (which involved the Belarussian government). Calingaert suggested that this issue will have to be addressed via legislation. He mentioned the Global Online Freedom Act currently pending in the US Congress as an example.

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