Human rights in the information society

The Council of Europe considers that building an inclusive information society, based on respect for human rights, requires new forms of solidarity, partnership and cooperation among governments, civil society, the private sector and international organisations. It hopes that, through open discussions and exchanges of information worldwide, a multi-stakeholder governance approach will emerge. Such an approach should assist in the development of new regulatory and non-regulatory models capable of providing flexible responses to the issues and challenges created by the rapid development of the information society.

On 12 and 13 September 2005, around 100 representatives of states, industry (including internet service providers, mobile phone operators, the gaming industry and software manufacturers), civil society and the media, as well as other organisations, institutions and experts, gathered at the Council of Europe's headquarters in Strasbourg to take part in the Pan-European Forum on “Human Rights in the Information Society: Responsible Behaviour by Key Actors”.

The Forum was opened by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and chaired by Henry Ingberg, General Secretary of the Belgian Ministry of the French-speaking Community (pictured right). HRC Director Mark Kelly moderated the session of the Forum which examined the issue of responsible behaviour by states; the panel for that session included Elisabet Fura-Sandstrom, Swedish Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, Monica Macovei, Minister of Justice of Romania and Lynda Bergsma, President of the Alliance for a Media Literate America.

In the light of a recent Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Information Society and Council of Europe priorities regarding the protection of children and internet content, the Forum identified and discussed responsible and irresponsible behaviour by key actors in the information society and how states, industry and civil society can work together (inter alia through partnerships, policy making, greater awareness and education) to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the information society.

Rapporteurs Rachel O'Connell (pictured left) and Jo Bryce of the University of Central Lancashire, presented the conclusions and results of the Forum.

Further information about the Forum, including a range of background documents, is available on the website of the Media Division of Council of Europe's Directorate General of Human Rights.

All photographs Council of Europe, 2005

The discussions at the Pan-European Forum will inform the Council of Europe's contribution to the UN's World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which will be held in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. The Council of Europe will, in particular, host an event in Tunis called "From here to e-democracy: promoting e-participation and dealing with harmful content", which will be moderated by HRC Director Mark Kelly.

Message from Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary General, to the World Summit on the Information Society:

"We are going through a historic transformation in the way we live, learn, work, communicate and do business. We must do so not passively, but as makers of our own destiny. Technology has produced the information age. Now it is up to all of us to build an Information Society. 

This Summit is unique. While most global conferences focus on global threats, WSIS will consider how best to use a new global asset.

We are all familiar with the extraordinary power of information and communications technologies. From trade to telemedicine, from education to environmental protection, we have in our hands, on our desktops and in the skies above, the ability to improve standards of living for millions upon millions of people. 

Information and communication technologies are not a panacea or magic formula. But they can improve the lives of everyone on this planet. We have tools that can propel us toward the Millennium Development Goals; instruments with which to advance the cause of freedom and democracy; vehicles with which to propagate knowledge and mutual understanding. We have all of this potential. The challenge before this Summit is what to do with it."

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