Piret Urb, Unit of International Organisations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
When we read online publications or use online services on the Internet, we do not usually connect this to human rights and fundamental freedoms, or think about the entire set of problems related to this topic worldwide. Unfortunately, the Internet, not to mention online services, is not as free and available in other countries as it is in Estonia.
Currently, Estonia holds the chair of the Freedom Online Coalition*, which means being responsible for the development and daily operations of the coalition. We coordinate positions, exchange information and issue joint statements. The Freedom Online Coalition is an intergovernmental coalition committed to advancing Internet freedom worldwide, including aim to deepen the discussion on how freedom of Expression on the Internet is helping to promote democracy and development.
The coalition is also interested in attracting new members who share our thinking. The last member to join was Moldova at the beginning of January, 2014. We are very happy about this because Moldova is a success story of the Eastern Partnership, and it has achieved a great deal by systematically taking steps in the direction of a democratic society.
With its activities, the Freedom Online Coalition has given a clear signal to the world that the virtual freedom of expression is an indivisible part of human rights and that supporting and promoting freedom of expression on the Internet is just as important as the protection and promotion of other human rights. As the Human Rights Council says in its Resolution 20/8 on freedom on the Internet, which was adopted by consensus at its meeting in June 2012: “…the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice…”
In addition, the coalition focuses on supporting the bloggers, journalists and citizens who live in countries where Internet freedom is restricted. This year, Estonia contributed € 50,000 to the Digital Defenders Partnership. The principal activities of the coalition also include the promotion of a continuous dialogue on online freedom between the state, civil society and private sector.
As chair of the Freedom Online Coalition, Estonia’s greatest task this year is to organise the coalition’s fourth high-level annual conference. After the FOC was established in The Hague, conferences have taken place in Nairobi in September in 2012 and in Tunis in June 2013. In April 2014, Estonia will have the great honour of hosting the coalition’s 22 foreign ministers along with many other high-level and very interesting guests in Tallinn.
More information about the Freedom Online Coalition and the conference in Tallinn, which is called Free and Secure Internet for All, is available on the conference’s website at http://www.freedomonline.ee/.
All the concerned parties will be involved – the states, private sectors and NGOs – who play equally important roles in the administration and development of the global Internet. The keywords of the conference are a free or open and secure Internet, which is a specific but also broad topic. Considering the fact that the best experts in the field have been invited, we are sure that we can look forward to extremely exciting debates, in the course of which the representatives of Estonia, as a country that uses Internet services daily, can share their experiences.
* Many organisations and NGOs in various countries are focusing their activities on the protection of Internet freedom. One such organisation is the Freedom Online Coalition, which was founded in The Hague in December 2011 at the initiative of the Dutch Foreign Ministry. Estonia is one of the founding members of the coalition. To save time, the coalition is usually called the FOC. The aim of the coalition is to defend and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, include the freedom of expression, in virtual space, which is limitless. The coalition unites 22 similarly thinking countries (Austria, Ghana, Costa Rica, Eesti, Georgia, The Netherlands, Ireland, Kenya, Canada, Latvia, The Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, France, Sweden, Germany, Finland, Tunisia, the Czech Republic, U.K. and U.S.), which are committed to working for the preservation and promotion of freedom online.