Speech by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the conference “The Internet and Human Rights: Building a free, open and secure Internet”

14.09.2012 - Speech

-- chekc aganist delivery --

State Secretary Belfrage,
Frau Staatssekretärin Grundmann,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Distinguished guests,

I am delighted to welcome you to the Federal Foreign Office, together with our co-organizers for this conference – Aarhus University, Human Rights Watch and the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society.

Your discussions on the first day showed a broad consensus that the transformative power of the internet also has an enormous impact on Human Rights issues, in particular on freedom of expression. The Internet has become a synonym for the changes and chances of globalization. Great opportunities go hand in hand with serious risks.

This Friday, we are all concerned about what we saw in the last hours and the horrible messages we received from Libya.

The terrible events of these days in the Arab world have shown us all that the internet is both a blessing and a curse. We share the condemnation and criticism of the Video and its intention to provoke religious feelings but that can never be an excuse for violence and murder.

And I know that here in this room we have some guests from the United States of America. I would like to express in the name of the Federal Republic our deepest sympathy with our American colleagues. This video - which we condemn - can never justify murder.

We need to find answers to the crucial question how we organize the web in order to keep it free, open and secure.

To give you our perspective on Cyber Foreign Policy I will therefore focus on three areas:

First, the great opportunities the internet offers to our societies.

Secondly, the risks we have to counter to fully capitalize on its potential.

Thirdly, the guiding principles that should inform our decisions and our future agenda.

Let me start with the opportunities. Computer systems have become the nervous system of the modern world. They facilitate everything from communication to power generation to financial markets. The internet is a significant pillar and driver of our wealth. But it is more than that: The Internet is just as essential for our freedom as it is for our prosperity.

Take the remarkable transformation unfolding in the Arab world. I had the good fortune of witnessing its dynamics first-hand when I met with the interim government and bloggers in Tunisia in February last year. I listened to the enthusiastic accounts of young activists in the “Tahrir Lounge” of our Goethe-Institute in Cairo.

The democratic revolutions in North Africa did not only happen because of some technology. They started because the yearning for freedom was stronger than the traditional instruments of repression, because brave men and women overcame their fears. But the Internet gave wings to their struggle. It helped them to organize. It helped them to realize how many they were. It helped them to make their voices heard.

The Internet offers new opportunities for advocates of freedom in authoritarian regimes to communicate with one another. It allows the online documentation of human rights violations that previously could be covered up. And it gives bloggers and activists the chance to raise their voice in societies where traditional media can be easily controlled. We foster the exchange of ideas between advocates for freedom from Germany and abroad.

The Federal Foreign Office has been organizing workshops for international bloggers since two years.

The internet also contributes to the emergence of a global civil society. I was impressed to see the creative potential of a networked world when we launched a global design competition for a logo for human rights last year. Over 2000 design proposals from 149 countries were submitted in just two weeks. The result you can see right next to me on the screen.

We know about the opportunities of the internet. But we are not naive. To fully benefit from the advantages of the web, we have to address its challenges as well.

Cyberspace allows political activists to organize. But at the same time social media can be infiltrated. Surveillance technologies can monitor senders and receivers of political information alike. Repressive regimes can use the internet to disorganize, deceive, or even identify and arrest oppositional forces.

In repressive regimes political activists are confronted with threats to their personal security.

These regimes must not be given the technical means to spy on and harass their citizens. The Federal Government initiated with other EU partners the inclusion of internet and mobile phone surveillance technology in the EU sanctions regime vis-à-vis Syria and Iran.

Apart from its positive impact on economic prosperity, the internet can also be a threat to market participants. The ease and almost limitless possibilities to reproduce, modify and spread information and ideas online within seconds has led some people to believe that the right to intellectual property has lost its legitimacy. On a larger scale, the systematic theft of intellectual property through cyber espionage by private and state actors pose an important and growing threat. Germany is a knowledge-based society. Our prosperity depends on rewarding innovation and creativity.

We need to protect intellectual property rights while harnessing the creative potential power of the internet. This conference can be one of many steps on the way to find an adequate approach to this crucial challenge.

The same applies to the complex intersection of freedom of information and protection of privacy. The latter has to be guaranteed online as well. Public online mobbing and humiliation is unacceptable. I am sure Staatssekretärin Grundmann from the Ministry of Justice will further elaborate on this.

Our economies depend on the availability and integrity of our information technology. But this technology is vulnerable. We have to enhance our technologies in order to safeguard the availability and integrity of the internet. Providing better technical resilience and cooperation will increase security through deterrence by denial.

Cyber Security is therefore an important policy challenge on a national as much as on an international level.

One thing is certain: no state can govern the cyberspace alone. Its great benefit is that it is one single, global, accessible and free internet. We should keep it that way.

But international cooperation is needed to provide answers to crucial questions:

How do we apply our values and rules from the offline world in the online world?

Is there a need for new rules and rights: for users, for providers, for governments?

Where and by whom should such rules be laid down?

And how can they be implemented in a transnational context?

This brings me to my final point: The fundamental principles that should inform and guide our policies for Internet Governance and German Cyber Foreign Policy.

Firstly, freedom has to be our overriding priority in internet matters. Respect for the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the rights to access to information and the right to personal privacy must be ensured.

Secondly, with freedom comes responsibility. This applies to societies in general. It applies to the global internet society in particular. Self-regulation should be an important principle of its governance. All stakeholders – individuals, companies, governments – have to act responsibly. Therefore, regulation has to step in when our values and rule of law are in danger or democratic legitimation is no longer assured.

Finally, transparency and knowledge will help us to make informed decisions in line with our values. We will continue to share information, to include the global public, and to foster transparent policy dialogue.

We apply those principles in our Cyber Foreign Policy agenda already. We support the efforts of the UN and the OSCE to achieve higher transparency through confidence building measures. We actively support the efforts of the UN Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe and other bodies to codify Human Rights protection online.

Information technology is the key technology driver of globalization. Foreign Policy has to adapt to it and we are right on our way.

The internet is also a driving force for a true globalization of values. Let us make sure that freedom, responsibility, transparency and knowledge are at its core.

Thank you.

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