Call for a digital society based on fundamental rights

The Committee on Culture today called for a critical reflection on internet governance and underlined that this issue “must be a core aspect of public policy, both at national level and in regional and global multilateral relations”.

According to parliamentarians, it is vital to engage in an “open and inclusive dialogue among governments, the private sector, civil society, the academic and technical internet community and the media, with a view to develop and implement a shared vision of a digital society that is based on democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms”.

Following the proposals by the rapporteur, Andres Herkel (Estonia, EPP/CD), the parliamentarians called on governments to implement public investment policies coherent with the objective of universal access to the internet, while being active in international fora to uphold Net neutrality.

They called for holistic policies for combating computer crime and abuse of the right to freedom of expression and information on the internet. Such policies –they said- “should draw not only on up-to-date criminal legislation but also on strengthened means of prevention, including the setting-up of police forces specialised in detecting and identifying online criminals”. However, any national decisions or actions involving restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and information must comply with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The committee considered that the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe should be better used to enhance interstate collaboration. It also encouraged the member States to engage with the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation and contribute to its work.

The adoption of the text was preceded by a hearing on the challenges of democracy and human rights in the information society, with the participation of Sandra Wachter, Lawyer and research fellow in Data Ethics at the University of Oxford; Thomas Myrup Kristensen, Managing Director EU Affairs of Facebook in Brussels; and Thomas Schneider, Chairperson of the Steering Committee on Media of the Council of Europe.

Given the growing dimension of 'fake news' on social media, participants stressed the importance of curbing it, while stressing that the ‘dividing line' between censorship and freedom of expression is very thin. Ethical ways of self-regulation, the training of publishers, media education, encouraging users to develop an increasingly critical eye or the creation of ombudspersons were some of the possible approaches discussed.