G7 internet charter has its foundations right, but key elements still threaten human rights

September 19, 2019 – G7 member countries — with the exception of the United States — have signed the “Charter For A Free, Open, and Safe Internet” (“the charter”), a voluntary pledge similar to the Christchurch Call that lists out actions that countries and tech companies should take to counter illegal content on the internet. The signatories of the charter, which include large tech platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, commit to abiding by it and to reviewing progress regularly.

Access Now welcomes the fact that, through this charter, most G7 nations and major internet players recognize that measures aimed at combating illegal content online must be built on a solid foundation that respects and promotes human rights. The charter rightly recognizes the internet as a fundamental technological pillar of today’s world that must help empower individuals and communities, especially the most disenfranchised and vulnerable. Unfortunately, short-sighted or misguided policies theoretically aimed at improving the state of the internet can often do more harm than good.

“Overall, the G7’s internet charter is a welcome political initiative that recognizes the importance of protecting human rights when regulating the internet, and which focuses on combating ‘illegal content’ specifically, a much clearer concept than others such as ‘online harms’ used by other initiatives,” said Javier Pallero, Latin America Policy Lead at Access Now. “On the other hand, it is very concerning to see some of the world’s leading democratic governments continuing to delegate the interpretation and application of laws onto private companies and doubling down on the use of automated upload filters, a technology that is prone to censor free speech online.”

We expect governments to further engage civil society, the technical community, and academia in a meaningful and timely manner when it comes to the implementation of these commitments. We also hope that the negative aspects of the declaration are reconsidered as states and companies create new policies on content governance.

Access Now is an international NGO that works on human rights and tech policy around the world.