Freedom of expression set to turbo mode
By Johan Hallenborg, Deputy Director and Senior Internet Policy Advisor, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Swedes are a pretty tech savvy bunch. We like cool, new, shiny gadgets, too. And we start early: last year, half of all three-year-olds in Sweden were on the net. This year, it is estimated that the same goes for two-year-olds. Amazing.
So, we are raising our kids in a hyper-connected environment in which they play, listen to music, do their homework, connect with friends around the globe, share their photos, and more generally, just hang out with friends. Just like we did when I grew up in the seventies and eighties. Hang out. For no particular reason.
In one way, there are light-years between my childhood and my kids’. But on the other hand, not much has changed. We are still interested in music and films, in reading magazines, sharing gossip and so on. Our daily life still rests on one extremely important assumption: that we are free to communicate with other humans. And that we are able to do it freely.
To cherish our freedom of expression is something Swedes have been doing for quite some time – the constitutional protection of free expression dates back to 1766 – and the Internet has sent freedom of expression into a kind of turbo mode, where anyone can share anything with everyone.
The good news is that in many places freedom of expression actually works on the Internet too. The general rule-of-the-thumb that “human rights apply online as well as offline” has even been confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council in a landmark resolution in 2012, put forward by Sweden and adopted by consensus by the Council.
The bad news is that more and more people find their freedom on the Internet being more and more limited. Governments are getting better at censoring “undesirable” content, they are improving their tracing and surveillance methods and they harass, jail and even kill people who dare to use their freedom of expression on the Internet.
Our work at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in past years has attempted to break down some of the walls that prevent people from fully utilising the fantastic opportunities the Internet brings. One such wall is security. Some say that security on the Internet must be balanced against openness and human rights. We say that it is true that security is crucial, but that security may never be used as an excuse to violate human rights. Security is not about striking a balance. Security is about securing freedom and open societies.
It’s going to become more and more important to deepen the dialogue on freedom and security with other stakeholders. Here, the OSCE Representative of the Media is a very important partner. We applaud the important work Ms Mijatovic is doing in promoting Internet freedom in the OSCE region, a region where freedom on the Internet in many places is under threat. Her strong voice and relentless efforts to defend human rights online is needed more than ever.