“To work towards that dictatorial regimes change their views on the concept of freedom involves a long and often complicated task. Nevertheless, the discussions must continue in order to bring about acceptance of citizens’ rights and freedom of the internet,” writes Margareta Cederfelt and Karl Sigfrid, both Moderate Members of the Swedish Parliament after participating at OSCE’s international conference on freedom of the internet.
Mid-February, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) arranged an international conference on freedom of the internet. No less than 57 member countries from different parts of the world attended the conference and they all emphasized the importance of a free and available internet. In the next stage of the discussion, the differences in approach get more noticeable. Perceptions of what constitutes a free internet differ significantly between stable democracies and countries such as China and Belarus. For freedom of the internet to evolve in a positive direction, there must be a basic common understanding of what freedom means.
A country’s approach to media freedom, openness, and respect for dissent, the state’s responsibilities, obligations and rights also permeates Internet policy. Internet is in no way independent from other media. Even hard-line dictatorships advocate a free internet, but their view is rather that the authorities should protect citizens from harmful information that could be spread online if the internet is unregulated.
In less democratic countries, the argument for a free internet is characterized by that all citizens should be able to trust that the information available is true and real. Citizens should also be able to rely on the internet as free from offensive content or criminal material. Additionally, it is important, according to these countries, that the internet do not encourages activities that disrupt social order. In order to ensure this, the state assumes a responsibility to develop standards for what gets printed and available. It further assumes the right to block or remove material that would violate these principles or in other ways are perceived as inappropriate.
The Swedish position on a free internet, on the other hand, renounces all kinds of censorship and assumes that people have the right to write and be active on the internet without restrictions. The state should not block or remove material. The principles of press freedom and freedom of expression should also apply to the internet.
The proliferation of free speech, which is made possible by a free internet, has great significance for the development of democracy. The Arab spring’s acceleration is a clear example of this. Henceforth, the internet is likely to be the major source of democratic progress. It is mainly due to citizens who had previously been isolated from outside information now can participate in a free exchange of ideas.
To work towards that dictatorial regimes change their views on the concept of freedom involves a long and often complicated task. Nevertheless, the discussions must continue in order to bring about acceptance of citizens’ rights and freedom of the internet. That there is a consensus on the meaning of a free internet is central to finding international solutions for a more open and accessible internet. Sweden will continue to set a good example for how a free internet should prosper.
Member of Parliament from the Moderate Party and Deputy Member of the Swedish Delegation to the OSCE
Member of Parliament from the Moderate Party and Member of the Constitutional Committee
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