The Freedom Online Coalition, this year chaired by the United States, is a group of countries specifically dedicated to supporting and advancing respect for human rights online and in digital contexts. The group operates on the principle that the internet “should be a vast forum that increases connectivity; that expands people’s ability to exercise their rights; that facilitates unfettered access to knowledge and unprecedented opportunities for billions,” said Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
“Meeting that standard, however, is not simple,” she said. “Where democracies seek to tap into the power of the internet to lift individuals up to their highest potential, authoritarian governments seek to deploy these technologies to divide and disenfranchise; to censor and suppress; to limit freedoms, foment fear, and violate human dignity. They view the internet not as a network of empowerment, but as an avenue of control.”
Speaking at a recent Freedom Online Coalition event, Deputy Secretary Sherman said that the rapid development of new technologies, such as the recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence, necessitates constant readjustment in an effort to strike a good balance between using technologies for public safety and preserving personal liberties.
“The stakes could not be higher for internet freedom, for our common prosperity, for global progress,” she said. “Because expanded connectivity—getting the two billion unconnected people online—can drive economic growth; raise standards of living; create jobs; and fuel innovative solutions for everything from combating climate change to reducing food insecurity to improving public health to promoting good governance and sustainable development.”
This means that we must reaffirm our vision for democracy in the digital era, said Deputy Secretary Sherman. We must ensure that the cyberspace mirror the rules-based international order, and we must be ready to adapt these rules to emerging technologies.
“The internet, the web, the online universe is at its best when it is open for creativity and collaboration. Open for innovation and ideas. Open for communication and community, debate and discourse, disagreement and diplomacy,” she said. “The same is true for democracy—a system of governance, a social contract, and a societal structure that is strongest when defined by open spaces to vote, deliberate, gather, demonstrate, organize, and advocate.”
"This openness could not be more important,” said Deputy Secretary Sherman. “Because when the digital world is transparent, when democracy is done right—that’s when everyone has a stake in our collective success.”