Freedom of Connection – Expression: the UNESCO Workshop at 5th IGF Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 September 2010

Fifth Internet Governance Forum
Vilnius, Lithuania, 14-17 September 2010

UNESCO Workshop 81 “Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression:

The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet”

Room 6,  Lithuanian Exhibition Centre LITEXPO, Vilnius

11:30-13:30, 14 September, 2010

Organizer: UNESCO

This workshop is a follow-up of the well-attended discussion on Internet Censorship and Filtering by the participants of IGF 2009 in Sharm el Sheik. UNESCO would also take the occasion to release an in-depth analysis and report entitled “Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet”(Executive Summary attached), which builds upon previous discussions and provides a panorama of observations and useful exploration on the subject, conducted by the Oxford Internet Institute.

Given the increasing debate on the issue of free flow of information at global level since last year, the Vilnius workshop seeks to bring global policy makers, industry leaders, civil society, legal experts and other stakeholders together to dialogue and exchange views on feasible approaches and policy. What recommendations are in order to shape the changing legal and regulatory ecology in ways that are conducive to preserving freedom of expression, the free flow of information and knowledge, and the integrity of cyberspace as a public good, without being increasingly fragmented?  The sub-themes include:

  • Internet Filtering and Censorship
  • Right to Access to Information and Knowledge
  • Privacy and Data Protection
  • Child Protection
  • Network Neutrality


11:30   Opening and Introductory Remarks by Chair
10’ Mr Jānis Kārkliņš Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information at UNESCO
11:40  Presentation of the report by Prof. William Dutton,  Director, and Dr Victoria Nash, Policy and     Research Fellow,  Oxford Internet Institute (OII), University of Oxford
12:10  Comment by Dr. Yaman Akdeniz , Associate Professor of Law, Istanbul Bilgi University, Turkey
12 :20  Comment by Mr Nicklas Lundblad, senior policy counsel and head of public policy for Google in Mountain View
12 :30  Questions and Answers  (also open to remote participation)
13:25  Closing Remark by Mr Jānis Kārkliņš

Note 1: The workshop welcomes remote participation. Pls contact remote moderator Ms Xianhong Hu (, Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO.

Note 2: Ps find the Executive Summary of the report enclosed below:

Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression:

The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet

by William H. Dutton, Anna Dopatka, Michael Hills, Ginette Law, and Victoria Nash, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Executive Summary

Over the first decade of the 21st Century, the Internet and its convergence with mobile communications has enabled greater access to information and communication resources. In 2010, nearly 2 billion people worldwide – over one-quarter of the world’s population – use the Internet. However, during the same period, defenders of digital rights have raised growing concerns over how legal and regulatory trends might be constraining online freedom of expression. Anecdotal accounts of the arrests of bloggers, the filtering of content, and the disconnection of users have sparked these concerns. However, they are reinforced by more systematic studies that provide empirical evidence of encroachments on freedom of expression, such as through the increased use of content filtering.

This report provides a new perspective on the social and political dynamics behind these threats to expression. It develops a conceptual framework on the ‘ecology of freedom of expression’ for discussing the broad context of policy and practice that should be taken into consideration in discussions of this issue. This framework structures an original synthesis of empirical research and case studies of selected technical, legal and regulatory trends. These include developments in six inter-related arenas that focus on:

  1. technical initiatives, related to connection and disconnection, such as content filtering;
  2. digital rights, including those tied directly to freedom of expression and  censorship, but also indirectly, through freedom of information, and privacy and data protection;
  3. industrial policy and regulation, including copyright and intellectual property, industrial strategies, and ICTs for development;
  4. users, such as focused on fraud, child protection, decency, libel and control of hate speech;
  5. network policy and practices, including standards, such as around identity, and regulation of Internet Service Providers; and
  6. security, ranging from controlling spam and viruses to protecting national security.

By placing developments in these arenas into a broad ecology of choices, it is more apparent how freedom can be eroded unintentionally as various actors strategically pursue a more diverse array of objectives. The findings reinforce the significance of concerns over freedom of expression and connection, while acknowledging countervailing trends and the open future of technology, policy and practice. Freedom of expression is not an inevitable outcome of technological innovation. It can be diminished or reinforced by the design of technologies, policies and practices – sometimes far removed from freedom of expression. This synthesis points out the need to focus systematic research on this wider ecology shaping the future of expression in the digital age.

One thought on “Freedom of Connection – Expression: the UNESCO Workshop at 5th IGF Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 September 2010

  1. Comment by John Carr, Secretary of the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, posted by Bill Dutton with permission:

    Hi William,

    I have read the document you presented in Vilnius. I thought it was great. It would be impertinent of me to attempt to do a detailed critique but I do have a more general observation which I thought I’d pass on.

    In 2010 the internet has become many different things to many different people. I do not believe that this increasingly heterogeneous environment can continue for very much longer to be governed by the same expectations as might have existed hitherto.

    Unquestionably the internet is in part a consumer commodity. It is right in the middle of mainstream marketing and sales activity for almost every major brand and big retailer. Internet connectivity packages are frequently sold as part of a deal linked to offerings from cable TV companies with pictures of Mickey Mouse or Pooh Bear forming an alluring (?) backdrop and come on. I’ve even seen connectivity packages wrapped up and presented in colourful cardboard gift boxes, placed on the shelves of department stores, next to the kettles and toasters. “Toys R Us” sells wireless routers and laptops. EBay and PayPal promote special stored value cards you can use on their service. You’ll find them at the check-out in Sainsburys in Camden Town.

    It is therefore important to stop thinking about the internet as if it were, essentially, still only or even primarily an adult or business medium for which special (usually meaning “irritating”) provisions need to be made to take account of the fact that children and young people will use it occasionally for homework or some other “fleeting or trifling purpose”.

    Equally the “whither the internet” debate cannot always be cast as if it is was a ceaseless, titanic struggle between the dark forces of repression and the freedom loving champions of democracy. If every single effort to protect children from bad stuff is seen through the prism of how it might help the Government of Belorussia to deny their people access to the truth we are all heading deeper into a blind alley. We’ve got to get away from the idea that everything is the last battle, every ditch must be died in, and it’s all a zero sum game.

    There is a bit about the internet which is for Mums helping their 4 year olds to learn how to spell. Children’s and young people’s substantial and constant presence online has to become central to thinking about how policy evolves across the whole space. The sooner we get there the better. The sooner we can reach some sort of accommodation the better it will be for everyone. I get the feeling sometimes that some of the free expression people go into a battle and if only 99.5% of what they want is on offer they reject it as a defeat. Their battle cry is “The Status Quo or a Glorious Death”. Actually correct that. It’s not a “Glorious Death” it’s a lawsuit.

    Many people in industry and free speech advocates have been heard to say that there would be no problem at all with children’s and young people’s use of the internet if only parents supervised and educated them properly. I am very much in favour of encouraging greater parental involvement in all aspects of their children’s lives and upbringing, but the fact that this sometimes breaks down does not mean that, for example, online retailers are therefore freed of any obligation to obey the law. If a child turns up in a supermarket and asks for a bottle of whisky this does not give the company permission to hand it over. It should be exactly the same in cyberspace.

    The internet is now more akin to a modern city. In the modern city there are planning, zoning and other laws to govern who can do what, and where and when they can do it. Much more effort needs to be put into developing cyber equivalents.

    In cities we do not say, for example, that porn should not be on sale, but we do say that it shouldn’t be visible on the High Street. The windows of the shops can say “Porn for Sale Here” but it requires a little extra effort to go and look at it i.e. you must walk through a door and in so doing stand ready to prove you are old enough to be there. Is that censorship? I don’t think so.

    The internet needs to be embraced wholeheartedly as a social place, populated and used by many different interests of which families with children are one, and not the least one. It is pointless and dispiriting for internet company executives and Government officials to continue repeating the mantra about how what is legal in the real world is legal in the online world, and what is illegal in one is equally illegal in the other when so very obviously the rhetoric does not match the reality.



Comments are most welcome