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Freedom of expression online: identifying and addressing challenges and developing a shared vision and a working partnership [WP1216]


In support of Her Majesty’s Government priorities with regard to freedom of expression on the internet, the roundtable strategy meeting provided an expert forum for practical discussion in order to:

  • Identify challenges, drivers and address emerging concerns across a spectrum of stakeholders
  • Map out ongoing initiatives and draw on lessons learned to pinpoint constraints, opportunities and next steps
  • Challenge and progress thinking towards norms of human rights behaviour on the Internet
  • Identify specific streams of work, future projects and practical initiatives that would help protect human rights on the Internet whilst addressing challenges/concerns
  • Broaden dialogue and expand the expert network with a view to future collaboration

A summary of the discussions was:

  • The internet presents new social and economic opportunities, but also new challenges for thinking about the protection and promotion of freedom of expression. Stakeholders are faced with a complex space that lacks conceptual clarity and cuts across policy areas, including security, freedom of expression, development, privacy, and intellectual property. Galvanizing the internet’s potential for innovation and economic development, while fostering norms based on tolerance and respect, requires cooperation between various stakeholders, including different sectors of the government, industry, civil society and the technical community.
  • Addressing conceptual issues such as what the ‘internet we want’ looks like, how it should be governed and what a digital agenda for development would involve, goes hand in hand with efforts to educate and build stakeholder capacity, as well as practical issues of developing greater policy coherence. In the upcoming period, there will be a number of opportunities for cooperation between stakeholders across different sectors and geographic regions to find common ground on a number of these issues, focus on what is feasible, and develop practical actions around these goals. A place for meaningful multi-stakeholder engagement is still needed, along with clarity about where decisions should be made. Integrating human rights, particularly freedom of expression, into the internet will require action on multiple fronts, including better education of users for example, on tolerance; transparency including company practices on takedowns; capturing of best practice for regulation of the internet and increased regional dialogue on how to promote and protect human rights. Integrating different areas of internet policy and practice in a coherent manner is a key challenge – engineers, users, human rights experts, government security experts all need to be involved.

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