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Statement by H.E. Mr. Urmas Paet at the side-event "Free and Secure Internet. Tallinn Agenda and the Way Ahead", 23 September

23.09.2014

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Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

As of today, there is practically no one who needs convincing that the Internet plays a crucial role in shaping todays world. The question is more about how to master the speed and huge flow of information. In order to make the best out of the Internet, it has to remain free and secure. It is the free use of the Internet that contributes to economic, social and cultural development.

The Internet has greatly affected the way of doing business. In fact, it has shaped the entire economic spectrum. In 2003, less than four out of ten companies had broadband access in the EU15. By 2009, this proportion had increased to nine firms out of ten. At the end of 2011, nearly all companies in OECD countries were connected to the Internet. The revenue of ICT companies in OECD countries has risen 4 times since the beginning of the 1990-s. The growth numbers have been impressive and their volume will most likely keep rising in the future. The boom of the digital economy is happening for various reasons technical innovation, the possibility of earning more profits and cutting expenses, and increased options to offer better services are only a few examples but accessibility to free and open Internet is definitely one of the most prominent ones among them. The free flow of information across borders boosts prosperity.

At the same time, autocratic governments are putting considerable effort into limiting Internet freedom. We unfortunately have numerous examples of restrictions and limitations that hinder the freedom of expression online. The Freedom Online Coalition has expressed its deep concern about the recent increase in the number and types of observed restrictions on access to social media platforms in many countries. There are cases of approved legislation that unduly restrict social media and ban access to social media sites,

Sometimes we hear calls to restrict the Internet, because it would help to limit the spread of unwanted information. This is a path we must avoid. Lies, half-truths and propaganda exist not because of the Internet, but despite it. F. ex. we have heard about the so-called troll-armies being paid to invade online territories in order to launch a massive disinformation campaign aimed at legitimizing Russia's annexation of Crimea and to support the separatists in eastern Ukraine. If the internet was to disappear today, the troll-armies would move to another channel that has the power to win the hearts and minds of people. The propaganda and lies will not disappear if governments impose new and more rigorous restrictions on the Internet. Quite the contrary we can fight lies by securing and promoting a free Internet. False information will be dramatically reduced if there is no fertile ground for lies. We can achieve this through education. The Internet offers a huge range of opportunities for better education. It is of key importance that we make a strong effort to cultivate digital literacy, in order to empower Internet users to make informed decisions. 

Keeping that in mind, Estonia has been using the ICT to improve the decision making process. Both on state and local government levels, the aim has been to increase transparency and openness. Citizens have the possibility to follow the legislative process and submit their own ideas to amend legal drafts online. Medical doctors are using the e-health system to follow patients health records. All private enterprises, together with detailed information about their ownership are listed in an electronic register that is available to everybody. Estonia uses a system of electronic ID-cards that is highly convenient and secure. The possibility of identifying yourself on the Internet and even to sign digital documents saves a lot of time and money. Within minutes, it is possible to establish a company online and all the paperwork, including paying taxes, is transported into your pocket, if you happen to have a smartphone. And more and more people do these days. But whatever platform or model of hardware you use, portable or not, as long as it has an Internet connection, it is possible to use the available services. Our main focus has been on making e-services more user-friendly and available for everybody. Estonian society has been growing together with its digital infrastructure. This has of course required establishing wide-based educational programs to increase the populations digital literacy. All these achievements have been possible thanks to the Internet that has always been open, free and accessible to everybody in Estonia.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Estonia recently had the honour of chairing the Freedom Online Coalition. The Coalitions high-level conference, that took place this April in Tallinn, adopted the document entitled  Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online. This includes the recommendations that 23 Freedom Online Coalition member countries became committed to. But a very important fact is that the document was drafted in very close cooperation with civil society, the private sector and academy representatives from all over the world. Therefore I take this opportunity to thank all the participants for their highly valuable contributions during the nearly 5-month drafting exercise. That was an excellent example of a multi-stakeholder process which ended with a successful result.

The Tallinn Agenda confirms the principles of a free and open Internet, making concrete suggestions on how to protect and develop free expression, association, assembly and privacy online. Freedom and security online are not conflicting, but complementary concepts. Internet users have the right to enjoy both and this has to be guaranteed.  

One of the key elements of the Tallinn Agenda is how to enhance government transparency and strengthen the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. The Internet has been a collective creation on a global scale. The Internet is not complete and it is doubtful that it ever will be. Incompleteness is precisely the global quality that has made the Internet a success story. Therefore in order to increase actual global prosperity, it should be in everyones interest to promote the free flow of information. Governments, private enterprises and NGOs should work together to guarantee that the Internet will never become fragmentized or nationalized. Everyone must have the freedom to seek, receive and impart information on the global Internet.

All stakeholders contributing to the progress of the Internet have to ensure the highest possible level of transparency. It is not only a matter for governments to be crystal-clear, but also for private and NGO sectors. They have a growing responsibility in protecting human rights and freedoms online, as the biggest service providers and online engines are now privately owned.

We see the Tallinn Agenda for Freedom Online as an important milestone in protecting freedoms online. After the Tallinn conference, Estonia has passed the chairmanship of the Freedom Online Coalition on to Mongolia, who is now leading the 23 countries undertaking their commitment to focus on the implementation of the Tallinn Agenda. We continue and invite everybody to support programs, initiatives and technologies that promote and help to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms online. In our activities during the implementation process, Estonia will respect our human rights obligations, as well as the principles of the rule of law. People can profit from the Internets economic, social and cultural benefits only when its global and free for everyone. As part of the implementation of the Tallinn Agenda, the coalition is continuing its engagement with all interested partners to preserve and strengthen the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. We are ready to share, and at the same time to learn the best practices on how Internet and online communication technologies can be used to guarantee and reinforce human rights in society.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank all the participants of this side-event – many of you were present in Tallinn during the Freedom Online Coalition Conference this spring and also contributed to the formulation of the “Tallinn Agenda”. Hopefully today we’ll gather many useful ideas and the “Tallinn Agenda” will be successfully and timely implemented. If you wish to endorse online freedom, the first concrete step could be to visit www.freedomonline.ee and show your support by submitting your vote on the “Tallinn Agenda”.

 

Thank you for your attention and let us keep the Internet free!

 

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