Tallinn to host grand web freedom event

Digitaalõiguste Instituudi juhatuse liikme Silver Meikari sõnul peaks Eesti internetivabaduse konverentsil tõstatama valusaid küsimusi, nagu internetikasutajate jälgimine ja privaatsus.

PHOTO: Peeter Langovits

As yet, foreign ministry would rather not reveal any conference speakers, merely stating that some well-known ones have already signed up.

Why in Tallinn? Because, since last summer, Estonia assumed presidency of the international Freedom Online Coalition (FOC). So far, the organisation includes a relatively small number of countries, each vowing to publicly strive for the advancement of internet freedom. The organisation was founded by 15 states in The Hague, Holland, at the end of 2011.

The conference will be held on April 28th to 29th, probably in Swissôtel Tallinn – often the location for international events in Estonia. The website will be found at www.freedom­online.ee, right now offering the barest minimum of information. The event will be a ministers-level one; according to FOC membership countries and foreign ministry, invitations have been sent to foreign ministers of several nations. Who of these might end up coming isn’t known.

According to Silver Meikar, board member of Estonian internet freedom group Institute of Digital Rights, the planned conference will prove a success if globally hot topics will be touched upon, such as surveillance of internet users and privacy.  

«Should globally actual issues be offered some kind of an answer, the event will have been a success,» said Mr Meikar. «This is an important subject: what’s the vision of democracies for ensuring human rights over the World Wide Web.»

Asked if FOC, as an organisation, is credible while faults have been found with various founding members, Mr Meikar said the situation would be no better should such a format for cooperation not exist.

«Estonia should not be afraid to raise questions, at the event, which might be painful and unpleasant for some participants,» said he. «If we’re afraid to touch these subjects, that would be a failure; even so, I don’t think this will be the case.»

Estonian foreign ministry thinks activities of FOC to be directed towards defence of internet freedom i.e. freedom of expression over Internet, as these same rights and freedoms ought to be equally protected and guaranteed in public and digital space alike. «The conference will focus on freedom of expression in internet, and on privacy and security, transparency and private sector’s role in development of the Internet,» the ministry replied in answer to inquiry.

At the event in Tunisia, last year, the states declaring their stand for enhancement of internet freedom came under criticism themselves.

Edward Snowden’s initial revelations regarding the US snooping programs had already been published, casting a shadow over the entire event – even though, due to location, the conference was scheduled to concentrate on Internet freedom in Arab world.

For instance: Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN journalist, internet activist and a main speaker at the last FOC conference, remarked in her presentation in Tunis that the words by Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt at the selfsame conference – that surveillance doesn’t hinder Internet use as it’s done discretely – would be same as saying that killing by a fatal injection is humane, being pain free.

Arrows of criticism have been shot at FOC also by the US net freedom group Electronic Frontier Foundation. In a commentary published at their website, EFF reminds FOC member states to practice what they preach.

No unlimited Internet use in Estonia either: for instance, access to foreign gambling sites has been blocked; by numerous court cases, limits have been set to freedom of expression in the web. 

Freedom Online Coalition (FOC)

•    Founded in 2011, in The Hague

•    Founding members: Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Estonia, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Holland, the UK, USA, and Sweden.

•    Afterwards, Finland, Costa Rica, Tunisia, Latvia, Georgia, Germany, and Moldova have joined up. The latter did so under Estonian presidency.

•    Conferences: 2011 The Hague, 2012 Nairobi, 2013 Tunis, 2014 Tallinn.