Stockholm Internet Forum 2012 18 april 2012
Gunilla Carlsson, Biståndsminister
Speech by Ms Gunilla Carlsson at the Stockholm Internet Forum 2012
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Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
What a fantastic gathering of people here today: Internet activists, IT - specialists, business representatives, professors, telecom operators, human rights defenders, development experts and even politicians. And that's just to mention a few. However, most of the people attending the Stockholm Internet Forum aren't even here. They're out there somewhere, following us on the web.
When you think about it, it's really quite amazing. Anywhere in the world, a person with a computer and an internet connection can not only watch us, but also actually take part in today's conference. For many of us here, the Internet and all its possibilities have become as obvious and natural as the air we breathe. But at the same time, many people - too many - can't even take for granted something as fundamental as water.
As Minister for International Development Cooperation, my work is centred in the middle of these two extremes. However, there is nothing that says they have to be mutually exclusive. Just because you lack clean water doesn't mean you're not streaming the latest episode of '30 Rock' on your computer, and then tweeting about it. And just because you live in a slum doesn't mean you're not hooked up to the rest of the world. We live in a complex time, in which many of our preconceived notions of poverty no longer apply. This is something we must always bear in mind when talking about development.
Now I'd like to share with you some of my thoughts about the importance of Internet freedom for multi - faceted development, and what we can - and must - do to help those who are fighting for freedom and democracy.
The Internet has revolutionised our economies and societies. It radically shrinks the distance between people, businesses, the scientific community and governments all around the globe. This revolution has given us fantastic new opportunities: the Internet as a platform for innovation and growth, but also an important platform for democracy.
Those of us who are convinced that human development depends on individual expression of new ideas clearly understand the value of a free and open Internet.
This insight is also reflected in one of the Millennium Development Goals - Goal Eight. It sets out to make available the benefits of new technologies in developing countries, and to increase the number of Internet users. Information and communication technologies are the enablers that allow societies to prosper, that allow modern health care, education, banking, trade and communications to exist. If developing countries are to play their full role in the global economy, they too must have access to the technologies that define our reality today.
In our efforts to eradicate poverty, let us not forget the Goal Eight target of making the benefits of new technologies available, especially information and communication technologies (ICT). This target carries a vision of development as something beyond the absence of hunger - it is a vision of freedom, growth and innovation that puts the individual first in the general development of mankind. We should remind ourselves of the commitment to turn this digital divide into a digital opportunity for all, particularly for those who risk being left behind and further marginalised.
Bridging the digital divide means ensuring digital inclusion. This, in turn, requires people having access to, and effective use of, the range of digital media, communication platforms and devices for information management and processing.
I believe it is important to underline that access is not only a question of physical possibilities to connect to the Internet, or even access to the skills necessary to use new technologies. It is not only about availability and affordability.
Access to, and use of, the Internet are becoming more and more significant for the full enjoyment of human rights: the right to freedom of expression, the right to education, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to take part in the government of a country, the right to work, and so on.
Today, access to, and the creative use of, the Internet are an inevitable priority to anyone concerned with human development, due to its integral relationship to all these human rights.
In addressing the issue of access, we should always keep in mind that the gap in access between the 'developed' and the 'developing' world is only one of many divides - and often a symptom of underlying problems rather than the core problem.
One of the underlying problems is, of course, the inherent lack of respect for human rights that characterises some nations' approach to modern communication technologies.
By being the largest and potentially most inclusive communication arena that has ever existed, the Internet fosters freedom of expression on a global scale. Those who want to exclude their populations from this arena are trembling with fear.
Countries where regimes limit or prohibit their citizens' access to the Internet - these are the black holes of the Internet.
In Iran, Internet censorship has been a reality for some time, and even more so since the disputed presidential elections in 2009. For instance, Iran now blocks access to both Gmail and Google and, for a reason beyond my comprehension, the official website of the upcoming London Olympics. There are also indications that Iran is pursuing a plan for a 'clean internet' - in effect an Iranian intranet controlled by the government.
In the report "Freedom on The Internet 2011", the organization Freedom House lists five countries that are at particular risk of suffering setbacks related to Internet freedom: Thailand, Russia, Jordan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Another example in the Freedom House report is Pakistan, where temporary blocks have been common in recent years. In 2010, a new Inter - Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites was established to flag sites for blocking based on vaguely defined offenses against the state or religion.
Certainly, some of these countries that I've mentioned aren't what we would normally call development countries. But this is only true if you take a narrow view of poverty. Because poverty, the way the Swedish Government sees it, is not only a lack of food or water or income. It is just as much a lack of freedom and the right to express oneself freely.
In most of the countries where access to the Internet is limited, it is a criminal offence to express oneself via the Internet. As the persecution of reform - minded people on the Internet grows, our duty as human rights defenders becomes a duty to defend a free and open Internet.
In our age of instant communications, it is futile to try to prevent the dissemination of views and contacts by closing down the Internet or mobile phone services. Therefore, my Government has clearly stated that extensive closure of the Internet is, in fact, a violation of the freedom of expression and information, established in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
But, it's not enough for Sweden and others to express their dismay. We need a broader agreement and understanding among governments that freedom on the Internet is the rule, not the exception. Here, governments need to do more. And we politicians need to realize that no one, not even a fully developed democracy, is immune to the temptation of controlling and limiting access to the Internet.
It is evident that today's information and communication technologies provide new potential to modernise our development efforts in a very substantial way. These tools can be used to promote the cause of democracy and human rights, to provide independent sources of information, to hold leaders accountable to their citizens, to serve as a means to connect citizens both throughout the country and in diaspora communities, and to expose corruption. These are liberation technologies, symbols of a world that has changed forever.
This is why freedom on the Internet will remain a priority issue for the Swedish Government. The role of information and communication technology in today's freedom struggles ranges from creation of alternative channels to government - controlled media to the use of social media in monitoring human rights abuses and mobilising support for democracy. The Arab Revolution has shown how ICT and social media applications can create new opportunities for citizens to mobilise, increase their influence and demand accountability from their leaders. Exploring and investing in ICT is key for increased openness and transparency worldwide.
We can never accept people being thrown into prison merely because they voice their opinions on the Internet. The time has passed when a people's legitimate claim to justice and welfare can be silenced by blocking their freedom of expression and their freedom of assembly.
As long as there are countries where the Internet is shut down or censored, there is scope for increased ICT support to facilitate the free flow of information and so promote domestically driven democratic change.
We have an obligation to support those who risk their lives fighting for values that we share and take for granted. The events in North Africa and the Middle East represent a strong call to governments and donors truly committed to democracy and human rights. This deserves our admiration and respect. But it also calls for us to take action.
In 2009, as a complement to traditional democracy assistance, the Swedish Government launched a Special Initiative for Democratisation and Freedom of Expression. This initiative gave us the means to rapidly support human rights activists and agents for democratic change in new and more direct ways, not least through ICT.
The Swedish Government recently decided to adopt a new strategy for Democratisation and Freedom of Expression for 2012 to 2014, with a budget of 215 million kronor for 2012. The strategy prioritises the use of ICT and innovative technology in the service of freedom. Many of the projects that we supported in 2011 were in the Middle East and North Africa, and we will continue this support in 2012 and onwards.
I would like to give you an idea of the kind of projects that we're supporting through Sida, our very own and very modern development agency.
First, we have the project 'iMeedan - Sorting, Translating & Disseminating Citizen Reporting in the Arab Region'. The purpose of the iMeedan is to strengthen citizen journalism in the MENA region. This is done by training bloggers and by building up portals for the promotion of activist bloggers in cooperation with local progressive media actors.
The first phase of iMeedan focused on Egypt, but it has now expanded to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Morocco and several other countries.
Secondly, we support an international NGO called 'Tactical Technology Collective', or 'Tactical Tech' for short. They train human rights defenders, democracy activists and journalists in IT security, ICT technology and efficient methods of bypassing censorship, filtering and infiltration. The goal of the project is to have 20 000 trained agents of change.
We also give support to similar projects managed by, amongst others, Freedom House, The Tor Project and Civil Rights Defenders. Many, if not most, of the brave men and women we are trying to help take great risks and make even greater sacrifices in the name of freedom. We owe them our support.
One of the most fundamental obstacles to poverty reduction and achieving the goal of equitable and sustainable global development is repression. As I said before, poverty is not only a lack of income and material resources. Poverty is also a lack of freedom, security and the power to influence policy and shape the decisions that affect one's life. Every person has the right - an absolute, unassailable right - to live his or her life in dignity and freedom. And taking freedom seriously means always putting the individual first, before the state. That is why we, the Swedish Government, have made it our business to help those who fight for and believe in freedom and democracy.
At the beginning of my speech I mentioned water. The way I see it, water and the Internet have quite a lot in common. First of all, every person should have unlimited access to them. Secondly, they are both fantastic mediums for communicating, trading and for making a living. Third, they're a lot of fun. Fourth, and this is maybe the most important similarity: they both have an extraordinary ability to make their way into the smallest of cracks, be it into rocks or dictatorships. And as we've seen: once they're in, anything can happen. That ability, that power, is what makes the Internet such an amazing instrument of change.
Where there is water, there is life. And where the Internet is, there is hope. Let's make sure everybody has plenty of both.
Thank you all for your attention and for coming to Stockholm, the capital on water; where we meet today to increase freedom tomorrow.