Human rights in the information society on CoE agenda

By EDRi · September 21, 2005

On 12 and 13 September the Council of Europe convened a Pan-European Forum on “Human Rights in the Information Society: Responsible Behaviour by Key Actors” with representatives from state, industry and civil society.

The Forum was a follow-up to the recent Declaration of the Committee of
Ministers on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Information Society,
plus general Council of Europe priorities regarding the protection of
children and internet content. The Forum aimed at identifying and
discussing “responsible” and “irresponsible” behaviour by key actors and
how states, industry and civil society can work together (inter alia
through partnerships, policy making, greater awareness and education) to
ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the Information
Society. On behalf of EDRI, Meryem Marzouki (IRIS, France) and Rikke Frank
Joergensen (Digital Rights, Denmark) were invited to participate to the
Forum, and especially to the panel on the civil society role.

The Forum was followed on 14 and 15 September by the second meeting of the
CoE Group of specialists on human rights in the information society
(MC-S-IS), where EDRI now enjoys a civil society observer status. This
group has been set up by the CoE media and new communication services
steering committee (CD-MC). Main points on the agenda were:

-discussion on the development of CoE guidelines to promote “responsible
behaviour by key actors”, in a direct link with the Forum;

-the development of strategies to promote CoE standards among information
society actors;

-discussion about a questionnaire proposed by the group Secretariat on the
implementation of CoE guidelines on freedom of expression in the
information society in member States;

-and finally, an answer to the CD-MC invitation to propose clarifications
of various governance models or regimes (self-, co-regulation, or State
regulation only), in view of establishing a common position.

It is a positive development that Council of Europe is increasingly
involving civil society in its work, and shows awareness and willingness
to address the specific human rights challenges within an information
society context. However, because the link is still relatively new within
this setting, some issues were reopened that should not be reopened, for
example whether HR standards on privacy and freedom of expression,
including conditions to restrict these standards, apply to internet in the
same way as they do off-line. Specific issues in this discussion are the
protection of children that should go above the rights of adults to freely
seek information and the responsibility forced on ISPs to act as judges of
the content on their servers. From a human rights perspective it is
crucial to distinguish clearly between content which is illegal and
content which is legal, though it might be perceived as harmful by some
actors. The latter enjoys full protection under art. 10 of the European
Convention on Human Rights.

One of conclusions of the Forum was a commitment to further address media
literacy, HR education and HR-proofing. This latter issue means states
need to demonstrate their national legislation and policies are HR

During the Forum as well as, in a more operational manner, during the
MC-S-IS meeting, EDRI reminded the participants of these principles,
proposing that they could be more formally reaffirmed in future CoE
guidelines to be prepared by the group of specialists. EDRI also proposed
that an independent Commission on human rights and the rule of law in the
information society be set up at the CoE level. This commission should
assess, on a regular basis, the implementation of human rights and the
rule of law standards in the legislation and practices relevant to the
information society in all CoE member States, and to promote these
standards at national level. In this respect, EDRI welcomed the proposed
questionnaire on the implementation of CoE guidelines on freedom of
expression in the information society. EDRI saw it as a good example of
the tools an independent Commission should use for its assessment work and
proposed that such questionnaires be also developed on other issues, for
example on the implementation of the CoE guidelines on privacy.

The next MM-S-IS group meeting is scheduled in December 2005. A second edition of the CoE Pan-European Forum is planned in 2006.

CoE Pan-European Forum (12-13.09.2005)

Second meeting of the MC-S-IS (14-15.09.2005)

(Contribution by Rikke Frank Joergensen and Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-members
Digital Rights Denmark and IRIS, France)