Yes to Internet Freedom!

What does the Philippines have in common with countries such as China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Cuba and Yemen? All of these countries issued a joint statement with China delineating all the evils of Internet use while underscoring the need to strengthen Internet regulation by various governments. This statement was read during the panel discussions on the Right to Freedom of Expression on the Internet conducted by the UN Human Rights Council last February.

As we celebrate Social Media Day, I call on fellow bloggers, members of media and more than 9 million OFWs who use the Internet to connect with their families to examine closely the statement of China as written below. Is this something that a democratic country like ours should be aligned with? Does this statement fully reflect your idea of Internet Freedom? Or like me, do you feel that this statement while seemingly innocuous, also promotes the idea of greater Internet regulation as a means to stifle democratic ideas and movements around the world?

My work as an OFW and labor advocate as well as a writer is enhanced a thousandfold because of the Internet. While I am against the use of the Internet for criminal activities, I am just as passionately in favor of freedom of speech on the Internet. We are all equals on the Internet — unless an 800-pound gorilla like the government or several governments skew this in their favor.

Read the statement below and let me know what you think.

Joint Statement at the Panel on Freedom of Expression on the Internet
(February 29th, 2012, Geneva)
Mr. Moderator,

I have the honor to deliver this statement on behalf of following countries: Algeria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ethiopia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mauritania, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestine, Philippines, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zimbabwe and People’s Republic of China.

The Internet has become an indispensible tool of our daily lives, and is playing an important role in human development. The right to freedom of expression is one of the fundamental human rights, and should be respected and protected. Free expression of opinion, receipt and dissemination of useful information through different media, including the Internet, can contribute to promoting mutual understanding and common development of people.

However, freedom of expression is not absolute. It has limitations, and should be exercised in strict accordance with the international law, especially articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR, and article 4 of the ICERD. Neither should it be used as a pretext for activities in violation or even destruction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The abuse of the freedom of expression in particular on the Internet, can encroach on the rights and dignity of other individuals, undermine social safety and stability, even threaten national security. The Internet is often used to propagate terrorism, extremism, racism, xenophobia, even ideas of toppling legitimate authorities. Moreover, the Internet is used by some groups to distort facts, exaggerate situations and provoke violence, in an attempt to escalate tension wherever it appears and gain political benefits. The Internet is also used by criminals to incite outlaw activities and to target sensitive facilities.

The Internet is also used to disseminate pornographic and violent information, which corrupts people’s minds, affronts their cultural values and induces them to be involved in criminal activities. In this regard, children are most vulnerable and frequently become victims.

The digital divide has prevented people of developing countries from enjoying access to information through the Internet. We affirm the importance of using the Internet in compliance with intellectual property rights protection. At the same time we believe any technical impediment to restrict access to Internet in the name of property rights should not be used.

We call on the international community to cooperate to promote access to the Internet and new technology in developing coutries.

Mr. Moderator,

All stakeholders of the Internet should make concerted efforts to prevent and combat the abuse of freedom of expression on the Internet. Internet users of all countries should respect the rights and dignity of others, contribute to maintaining social safety and stability, and safeguarding national security. The Internet industry should act to folster a crime-free, reliable and secure cyberspace. Governments should strengthen legislation in the field of Internet regulation and law enforcement activity, with the aim of combating criminal activities. All countries should start as soon as possible discussion on effective ways to promote international cooperation on Internet regulation and building of safety and confidence on the Internet.

Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

Note:Underscoring supplied

Here’s the link to said statement:

Here’s a link that would provide you a few more details about the panel discussion:

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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