Council of Europe draft statement on human rights and Internet

By EDRi · April 20, 2005

On 6 and 7 April 2005 a committee of the Council of Europe debated on the
merits of a new recommendation on human rights and Internet. On behalf of
European Digital Rights Meryem Marzouki from the French digital rights
organisation IRIS attended, in fact as the only NGO present. This second
meeting of the Multidisciplinary Ad-hoc Committee of Experts on the
Information Society (CAHSI) ended with a statement that will be presented
to the CoE Committee of ministers, probably to be adopted by the CoE
Summit of heads of states in mid May 2005.

The meeting was foremost an intergovernmental meeting, with EDRI in an
observer role. Besides government representatives (of which the UK, the
Netherlands and Norway were the most active), the secretariat of the group
and the Culture and Media divisions of the CoE were present, as well as a
delegate from the European Commission.

The objective was to finalise the document drafted during the first
session on 3 and 4 February 2005. Thus most of the meeting was spent on
amending the document, section by section, word by word. Marzouki was
given the opportunity to introduce EDRI and outline three main
reservations on the document. First of all, the document tended to
over-stress the harmfulness of ICT. Secondly, there was too much focus on
and promotion of self- and co-regulation and thirdly, EDRI saw no reason
for the references to the Cybercrime Convention and specifically its
controversial Additional Protocol (on xenophobic and racist speech).

The finalised (long) document was published on the CoE website on 13 April
2005. Though EDRI remains very concerned about the focus on
self-regulation, for example with notice and takedown procedures, at least
some distinction was made between harmful and illegal content. In stead of
calling for a general combat against all illegal and harmful content, the
recommendation now calls for the promotion of education and end user
skills to critically assess the quality of information. In the section
with suggestions for the private sector the dangers of private censorship
and the need to distinguish between harmful and illegal content are
explicitly addressed, but these points did not make it to the section
where governments are invited to take action. The document states:
“Private sector parties are “encouraged to address in a decisive manner
(…) private censorship (hidden censorship) by Internet service
providers, for example blocking or removing content, on their own
initiative or upon the request of a third party; the difference between
illegal content and harmful content.”

A point in the draft statement EDRI is pleased to see is the call on
member states to promote interoperable technical standards to allow for
the widest possible access to content. Sadly, the attempt to create a time
limit on measures curtailing human rights was limited to measures
appealing to article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the
article that grants member states exceptional rights in case of war or
public emergencies threatening the life of the nation. Most of the state
surveillance and control measures EDRI is highly concerned about do not
invoke this exception but are presented as regular extensions of law
enforcement powers.

Another issue EDRI was concerned about was the section about Intellectual
Property. Much weaker than the recommendations of the Unesco NL conference
from February 2005 this draft statement at least calls for protection of
access to information. “Intellectual property rights must be protected in
a digital environment, in accordance with the provisions of international
treaties in the area of intellectual property. At the same time, access to
information in the public domain must be protected, and attempts to
curtail access and usage rights prevented.”

Draft political statement on the principles and guidelines for ensuring
respect for human rights and the rule of law in the information society
approved by the CAHSI (13.04.2005)

(Thanks to Meryem Marzouki, EDRI-member IRIS)