Applying “offline rights” in the online world

On 9 September 2016, the Conference “Internet Freedom: a constant factor of democratic security in Europe” was held in Strasburg, co-organized by the Estonian Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the German OSCE Chairmanship and by the Council of Europe.

The conference was opened with a speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, where he stressed out the important link between internet freedom and the freedom of expression.

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland Enlarge image Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland (© CoE)

Dr. h.c. Gernot Erler, Special Representative for the German OSCE Chairmanship made a clear point, when he said that the challenges for Internet freedom are a recurrence of challenges already overcome in the offline world but now to be faced online. As a meaningful comparison to today`s challenges for Internet freedom, Erler pointed out similarities to the revolution in Germany, 1989. Moreover he highlighted that threats to the civil society like terrorism are not a carte blanche for a disproportionate surveillance as well as for censorship.

In the following high level panel debate “Human rights standards and practice – constantly on the verge of conflict” the subject was intensified by the participants. Dunja Mijatović, OSCE Special Representative on Freedom of the Media put particular importance on focusing on the enforcement of existing rules and adapting them to the challenges of today’s online world instead of the implementation of a new set of rules. Special Representative Gernot Erler Enlarge image Special Representative Gernot Erler (© CoE)

Prof. Joseph Cannataci, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy made clear that the idea of proportionality needs to be respected offline as well as online. Underlining the comparison between the online and the offline world, Mr. Robert Spano, Judge at the European Court of Human Rights highlighted that the Internet is a medium which everyone should have unlimited access to.

The participants agreed that transparency is one of the key elements of a free Internet. Thus, transparency reports from companies are one of the instruments to promote free Internet.. Furthermore it was pointed out that there has to be an enhanced cooperation with governments and therefore a political will to increase transparency online.

As one of the final statements, Sebastian Gerhardt, Team Coordinator of the OSCE Task Force in Berlin praised the intense dialogue between the experts and the great cooperation between the OSCE and the Council of Europe. He emphasized again that compliance with the rule of proportionality is one of the key elements to guarantee free internet. Moreover, Mr. Sebastian Gerhardt expressed his profound hope to deepen the cooperation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe.