Last December, after events in the Arab Spring, I launched our No Disconnect Strategy to ensure the Internet and ICTs are used to support our wider Human Rights strategy. I am happy to say there’s been some very exciting developments – including significant funding available for projects to build new ICT tools and fight cyber-censorship abroad; and further work on human rights guidance for the ICT sector.
First: we need to provide technological tools to those living under authoritarian regimes, whether they’re campaigners, human rights defenders, NGOs, or whatever; as well as training and raising awareness on the risks and opportunities of ICT.
I’ve been working hard with colleagues in the Commission to implement this. I’m delighted to say that on 4 June, we officially launched a targeted call for proposals under the EIDHR (the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) – to provide concrete support to human rights defenders against cyber-censorship.
The EIDHR has long been our main tool for promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms outside the EU; already it’s financed many projects in areas like media freedom, the fight against censorship, and access to the Internet.
This year, the global EIDHR call for proposals will include projects to fight cyber-censorship, protect confidentiality of activists, and use ICT to promote and defend democracy and human rights. We are allocating €3 million specifically for this kind of projects. Anyone with suitable ideas for actions should respond to the call for proposals before 20 July.
Second, complementing the EIDHR, we are looking at experimenting with these ideas on the large-scale Internet testing facilities provided by existing EU research projects, for example supporting decentralised “community networks”. Funding will be made available through open calls, for instance to security test and bug-proof human rights ICT tools: that’s pretty important, given the dangerous environments where these tools might be used.
Third, the No Disconnect Strategy is more than technology. I also want better cooperation among all stakeholders, including businesses. I expect the European ICT/Internet industry to step up self-regulation; but I realise this area is fraught with difficult choices and that sometimes commercial players need support from public authorities.
This is why we are developing sector-specific guidance – including in the ICT/Internet sector – on the corporate responsibility towards human rights, based on work from the UN. Now there’s a preliminary paper to help frame and stimulate discussions: on which you can send us your views before the end of June. We need lots of expertise and input, particularly to avoid fragmentation and duplication of efforts.
Fourth, in the coming months I want to focus on another important piece of the puzzle: how can we truly understand the “state of the Internet” in repressive countries, and react accordingly? After all, if the Internet is disrupted in a country, it may be another “Egyptian switch-off”. Or maybe it’s just due to technical problems, like a submarine cable being cut – something which happens rather frequently! In the EU, we have a responsibility to act when faced with human rights violations, but we also need “good” information: quick, actionable and in context, to ensure we focus our action where it is really needed.
There are many public and private initiatives in this area. So my staff will be mapping what is out there, looking at the synergies and how the Commission can add value – we’ll start by holding a meeting here in Brussels by the end of 2012.
And finally, what really matters is democracy; open markets; accountability; and the rule of law. Whenever I meet countries that need those reforms within my portfolio of telecommunications, Internet governance and media policy, I will continue to push for them.