Why internet freedom should be at the top of the global democracy agenda
A protester holds a banner reading ‘Downloading is not a crime’ during the ‘Save The Internet’ demonstration in Berlin, Germany, in March 2019. Demonstrators are protesting against Articles 11 and 13 of the EU directives on the copyright, generally referring to the installation of “download filters” to monitor online content uploaded to large Internet platforms. MESSENGER EFE / EPA / OMER
When US President Joe Biden met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva last month, the White House said “a whole host of pressing issues” were on the agenda, including the Kremlin’s involvement in global cyber attacks and disinformation and disinformation campaigns. During those talks – and at the Summit of Democracies – where Biden pledged to meet with allies, it would have been crucial for the United States to recognize that internet freedom is under siege around the world. Now is the time to challenge cyber sovereignty and demand urgent protections to ensure that people can communicate with each other and access the information they need to be safe, healthy and informed.
We cannot let cybersovereignty – the idea that countries must exercise sovereignty over the Internet within their borders – take the place of cybersecurity. Non-liberal state actors use sovereignty as a defense against local censorship of content on global platforms, often to seek tighter control over Internet gateways. Cyber sovereignty also leads to technologies and policies called “information controls”. The potential to stifle freedom of expression and the right to information is perhaps one of the reasons democratic cybersecurity frameworks tend to shy away from information controls framed by cybersovereignty. However, this shift to centering information and data, rather than people, is underway.
Restrictions on Internet freedom have accelerated globally, posing serious threats to human rights and security. Recent military takeovers in Myanmar leads to internet shutdowns this not only cut off access to the outside world for residents, but also prevented the rest of the world from knowing what atrocities were happening within the country’s borders. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have put the mental, physical and economic health of less connected communities even more at risk.
Freedom House International Human Rights Observatory recently reported that we see more and more governments exerting influence to censor information and communications beyond their borders. The report’s focus on 2020 underscores that governments are even using the pandemic as an excuse to shut down information they don’t want to be released.
Policymakers have the opportunity to strengthen the internet freedom movement through investments that reaffirm democratic principles of global internet governance through cybersecurity that centers people, builds alliances and strengthens infrastructure.
In the midst of this historically difficult time, policymakers have the opportunity to strengthen the Internet freedom movement through investments that reaffirm the democratic principles of global Internet governance through cybersecurity that centers people, creates opportunities. alliances and strengthen infrastructure.
It should be noted that many concerns could justify States’ interventions in the area of information security. Democratic countries (including the US, Japan, and much of the EU) are proposing to regulate data flows in a bid to fight disinformation and, they say, protect public safety. But disinformation is also often used as a ground for internet bans. These examples both borrow from cyber sovereignty. The goal of tackling disinformation is often well-intentioned, but it must be done in a thoughtful manner, otherwise we risk opening the door for bad state actors to legitimize harmful online censorship.
The internet freedom community is best positioned to navigate this delicate balance between cybersecurity and cyber sovereignty. But it needs the support of democratic countries and businesses if the Internet is to deliver on its promise to be a great force for good while remaining a secure and democratic space.
Global Internet Freedom Allies should focus on three specific areas that require real interest and investment. This agenda will promote strong cybersecurity practices while encouraging freedom of thought on the Internet.
First, traditional digital literacy is an important part of everyday civic life. Rather than bragging about a myriad of online threats, we need to better understand that there is no quick cybersecurity solution. However, there are tools available that help improve digital security, such as VPNs and password management. Our research found that one in four users worldwide is unfamiliar with VPN technology. Rooted in the idea that the internet transcends national borders, VPNs provide a way for citizens to bypass cybersovereignty while helping to protect their cybersecurity.
We must foster alliances, from governments to tech companies, to join civil society in the fight for Internet freedom, to ensure a lasting international commitment to free, open and democratic use of the Internet.
As it stands, access to these tools is most often the choice of a consumer or a business; but given their importance, we urge policy makers to consider their responsibility to educate institutions and the public on the benefits of circumvention tools so that censors cannot use them as a tool in their defense.
Second, it is essential to protect and fund community development groups such as the Open Technology Fund (OTF) and its beneficiaries, which allow billions of people around the world to browse the Internet safely, without censorship or surveillance. It is important that the internet freedom community is never again faced with funding shortfalls, such as those experienced in 2020, the effects of which are detrimental to the advancement of human rights technologies.
Finally, we must foster alliances, from governments to tech companies, to join civil society in the fight for Internet freedom, to ensure a lasting international commitment to free, open and democratic use of the Internet. . A diverse funding model involving tech companies, human rights groups, and governments would foster cybersecurity by empowering key players, allowing internet freedom communities to continue their important work.
We have a responsibility to protect the free and open ideals upon which the Internet has been built while addressing modern challenges. It’s important to remember that cyber sovereignty sees problems solely with the state, and cybersecurity requires everyone to cooperate. Thinking about cooperation, we can strengthen the Internet freedom movement if we think about it.