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The Freedom Online Coalition (FOC) is an intergovernmental coalition of thirty countries committed to worldwide advancement of Internet freedom – free expression, free association, free assembly, and privacy online. The session focussed on key priorities of the FOC and outlined the priorities of the current host of the conference, the government of Ghana, which leads the Program of Action for 2019-2020. The objective was to highlight the role of legislation in addressing the consequences of technology on human rights. The FOC can play an important role in facilitating the process, while being mindful of the needs of communities and the positioning of countries.
Mr Albert Antwi-Boasiako (National Cybersecurity Advisor, Ghanaian Ministry of Communications) initiated the discussion stating that ‘Technology offers several opportunities to countries in Africa’. However, the widespread Internet shutdowns on the continent hampers economic activities, resulting in the need to raise awareness regarding its long term opportunities. This can happen only by promoting human rights values, international co-operation, the rule of law, and respect for people’s rights.
The government of Ghana is committed to working with African stakeholders by promoting FOC values among countries in the continent. The upcoming conference in Ghana will be an opportune moment to engage in meaningful conversation about the issues at stake.
Mr Rauno Merisaari (Human Rights Ambassador, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) addressed the multistakeholder approach that the government of Finland is applying to ensure that the Internet remains free and open. Shaping norms and soft law is essential to the removal of disinformation as a prime concern. In this regard, Finland, along with the UK, is currently in the process of drafting a statement on the issue of disinformation to instil trust in institutions and to promote ‘adequate’ media and media literacy. In his view, human rights can be promoted online in various ways: either by ratifying specific conventions or by promoting mechanisms at educational and administrative levels to ensure that disinformation is addressed effectively.
Mr Mallory Knodel (Head of Digital, Article19, Co-chair of the Advisory Network to the FOC) discussed the role of various experts involved in the process and their roles in advising member states on emerging issues specific to safeguarding human rights online, namely, cybersecurity laws and how they affect human rights, disinformation, and artificial intelligence.
The discussion concluded that a need remains to localise discussion on issues regarding customisation of legislation on dilemmas posed by ‘fake news’, disinformation, and controversial social media content. The FOC could help by setting a benchmark that governments could refer to in establishing the necessary frameworks to address these issues.
By Hanane Boujemi