Julian Huppert MP has asked the government a couple of very interesting questions about what they are doing to support or promote freedom of expression and other fundamental rights in the UK. The questions were asked of the FCO and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. They were both given some pretty clear responsibilities towards rights online by the Cyber Security Strategy published last year (see page 40).
DCMS are given responsibility of:
"Helping to shape the development of cyberspace:
- Promoting an open and interoperable cyberspace
- Promoting the fundamental freedoms and rights that we enjoy"
And the FCO:
"Protecting our way of life
- Ensuring our security without compromising our values"
The strategy also sets out a number of more detailed actions, also on page 40.
We've heard some very welcome commitments before from the Foreign Office about freedom of expression and privacy online, most notably at the London Conference on Cyberspace and in the Foreign Secretary's reply to ORG and other freedom of expression advocates following the conference. We've heard less from DCMS on how they will consider these issues and build in a respect for rights online in their own policy, and that of other departments. Given they are responsible for developing many Internet focused policies, that will include powers to regulate information online, it is important to know whether and how these issues are being considered.
In both cases the Ministers reply that they have been engaged in the issue in some sense, although it is fair to say the answers from the FCO are slightly more detailed. All eyes are on the Communications Green Paper, that we are assuming will actually be published at some stage. It looks like it will be useful to assess the proposals in the Green Paper against papers such as the Council of Europe's "Internet Governance 2012-2015 Council of Europe Strategy" that the Minister Ed Vaizey refers to in his reply.
The questions and answers:
Question 1, to the FCO
Dr Huppert: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(1) what steps he has taken to use multilateral and bilateral channels to discuss how to apply the framework of international human rights law in cyberspace and new challenges in guaranteeing such rights;
(2) what steps he has taken to fulfil the Government's undertaking to promote fundamental freedoms and rights in cyberspace.
Mr Jeremy Browne: The UK Government are committed to promoting fundamental freedoms and rights in cyberspace and believe that the existing framework of international human rights law is, in principle, as applicable online as it is offline. We are committed to furthering this debate internationally through multilateral and bilateral discussions, as well as through wider multi-stakeholder engagement.
The UK Government have actively participated in a wide range of international events to discuss human rights in cyberspace. This has included the attendance by the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), at the Council of Europe/Austrian internet freedom conference in October 2011. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), initiated an interactive panel discussion on freedom of expression on the internet during the London Conference on Cyberspace in November 2011. The UK attended the Dutch Ministerial Conference on internet freedoms in December 2011 and also participated in the Swedish-inspired panel discussion on freedom of expression in the margins of the Human Rights Council in March 2012.
The UK has joined a coalition of like-minded states who will work together to promote and protect online freedoms. We welcomed the adoption of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommendation on internet policy-making principles in December 2011 and are actively supporting the Council of Europe, as part of our chairmanship, in their efforts to advance the protection and respect for human rights on the internet.
We also encourage states that restrict freedoms online to uphold their international human rights commitments. We lobby governments for change on the ground, including by raising individual cases and publicly supporting those who seek to exercise their rights.
Question 2, to DCMS:
Dr Huppert: To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport what assessment he has made of the potential effect of proposals in the forthcoming Communications Green Paper on fundamental freedoms and rights as outlined in Objective 3 of the UK Cyber Security Strategy.
Mr Vaizey: The forthcoming Green Paper will reflect the work already underway to deliver against the cyber security strategy, published last November. The Government are a strong supporter of freedom of expression on the internet and will continue to encourage States that restrict access to online media to uphold their international human rights commitments. In October last year, I attended the Council of Europe/Austrian conference in Vienna, in my capacity as Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative industries. This was to help facilitate endorsement of the “Internet Governance 2012-2015 Council of Europe Strategy” in early 2012, which identifies priorities for 2012-2015 to advance the protection and respect for human rights, the rule of law, and democracy on the Internet.