Discussion paper on my report on Digital Freedoms in EU foreign policy – share your thoughts!


Digital Freedom in the EUs External Actions

Internet and new technologies play an exponentially important role in the lives of Europeans, and in fact, of citizens everywhere. We stay connected with friends and family online, we read or watch the news on our smart phones, we have instant access to an ever expanding database of information, companies trade and invest on digital market places, public procurement is processed more easily, music and video on demand have become an integral part of the way we access culture, and election campaigns are hard to imagine without Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Several EU Member States have identified access to internet as a fundamental right, and the European Commission agrees digital freedoms are part of the Copenhagen criteria. Last year the European Commission launched the “No Disconnect Strategy” and digital freedoms are an increasingly important element of projects through the European Instrument for Human Rights and Democracy.

Not only in Europe, but globally technologies are changing societies, the functioning of our democracies, economies, businesses, media, development strategies, security and defence concerns and human rights issues. Information and power monopolies that have been unchallenged for a long time are upset.

Egyptians assembled on social media around the violent death of one man, a movement that kicked off the ousting of a thirty year long dictatorship. We are eye witness to the human rights violations in Syria through the roughly 100.000 clips that have been uploaded on YouTube.

Defence ministries across the world, as well as NATO, are struggling to assess new technological threats to our lives and societies and to find appropriate answers to them.

Farmers in Kenya know to which market to walk a 4 hour-long journey with their crops, as a text message informs them where demand will be.

In a globally connected world the EU should have a strategy to deal with new technologies in its external actions. There are several areas in this digital world in which it is essential that the EU acts as a global player and leverages its economic and political weight. Though overregulation would rather hurt than help the potential of the open internet, in some areas rules may need to be updated to match the revolutionary impact of technological developments with adequate democratic oversight.

This discussion paper seeks to invite suggestions on what the first EU’s Digital Freedom Strategy in its External Actions might look like. The paper will be shared with Members of European Parliament and will be placed online to invite various stakeholders to provide input through crowd-sourcing.

Security and freedom

New technologies challenge the way in which governments perform their core tasks. Defence and security ultimately lie in the hands of government; however, these increasingly rely on private players. This requires new forms of cooperation and shared responsibilities. There is no public sphere online, and this leads to changing chains of command. Only recently the European Parliament considered ICT infrastructure as critical infrastructure. Meanwhile debates about cyber warfare rage. Governments need to act responsibly by adhering to basic international public and humanitarian law principles, by respecting national sovereignty and human rights when using new technologies in giving substance to their duties. Given the EU’s common security and defence policy as well as its economic interests, we should lead globally in balancing security and freedom. Some EU Member States, such as Estonia, have learned from experience after having been subject to cyber attacks.

In the past month the new Flame virus replaced Stuxnet in the list of modern day attacks. Leaks from the White House suggest these tools are US made and used to target Iran’s nuclear program. In the broader context, questions of attribution (who can be held accountable for an attack), whether a cyber attack can constitute an act of war, and the relevance of invoking NATO’s article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all) are vividly debated.

Cyber warfare as well as perceived threats can easily spin out of control and lead to major unintended consequences. Aside from EU citizens also third country nationals are affected by protective measures, as came to light when internet users in Iran where in danger after the database of a Dutch issuing authority of encrypted information protocols was hacked and used to monitor internet traffic. Here to read more.

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