Today, I had the privilege of speaking at the opening meeting of Connecting the Dots: Options for Future Action, UNESCO’s international multistakeholder conference to discuss issues concerning freedom of speech, privacy and security on the Internet. This Conference is important both because it addresses critical issues related to free expression online but also because it is part of a dialogue that is leading to the United Nation General Assembly’s ten year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society that will take place this December in New York.
The Internet Society is a global organization comprised of 90 staff, 71,000 members, 133 organizations and 108 Chapters. Our Board is made up of the Who’s Who of the technical and community activists of the Internet. Our staff is distributed over six continents; we speak 33 languages. Our Chapters are active in 92 countries from Australia to Zimbabwe.
We are organized around and through one of the greatest inventions of mankind–the global network of networks that is the Internet. To do our work, we rely on our ability to connect, communicate and collaborate through the Internet so we can pursue our mission to expand and to protect the Internet’s global reach, its openness and bottom-up multistakeholder culture of decision making.
We are both of the Internet and about the Internet.
And in the last year we have become increasingly concerned with the growing impediments to the free and open expression on the Internet occasioned by government surveillance and censorship, hacking by criminals and the commercialization and monetization of user data. We firmly believe that, as the Internet becomes the global medium for all societies and communities around and across the globe, we must fiercely safeguard our collective ability to connect anytime, anywhere, to speak freely, to innovate without top down controls, and to share knowledge. For the Internet to thrive, it must allow users to choose between competing ideas and innovations. In addition, users must be assured of their personal security in order to further trust of the Internet itself.
The Internet Society is embedded in the fabric of organizations and networks that constitute the Internet technical community. We advocate for the right of users to encrypt their data, for ethical data protection and for a collective, collaborative approach to security. And, underpinning these technical and policy recommendations is our fundamental belief that human rights online are the same as human rights offline.
We are pleased that UNESCO, in keeping with its 2013 Statement embracing the Internet Universality: Rights-based, Open, Accessible, Multistakeholder, has convened this conference to consult with a broad array of stakeholders regarding recommendations for responses to Internet-related issues in UNESCO’s fields of competence. In 2013 we, together, agreed that the foundation for building an inclusive knowledge society depended upon a model of distributed governance, self-empowerment and respect for human rights.
At this pivotal time, when we are working together toward the Overall Review of the 10 years of WSIS, there is no turning back. We must fully embrace this model. And, if the global community is to meet the economic and development promise of an open, trusted, secure Internet for Everyone, we have a responsibility to collectively protect and maintain the Internet as a platform for freedom to speak and for respect for users’ privacy and security. We have much work to do. Let’s continue the work we have begun and issue a strong, urgent call for the protection of free expression online.
In closing, I want to express my appreciation, once again, for the opportunity to, participate in this important Conference knowing that the spirit of openness embraced here will serve us well in the processes leading to the High Level event in New York in December.