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Swedish Internet Forum: Opening address by Carl Bildt
The following speech was given by Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt on the opening day of the inaugural Swedish Internet Forum, 18 April 2012
Opening address by Carl Bildt
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Most welcome to Stockholm and the Stockholm Forum on Internet Freedom for Global Development.
You are here because you are you. Dedicated to the values of freedom and human rights that we all share. Convinced of the enormous power of the net to shape the future of individuals, nations and the world.
And concerned with the threats to these freedoms and these possibilities that we see in different parts of the world. And you are here because here is here.
So let's start with a short commercial for Sweden. It has to be said that we did not invent the Internet. But I think we can proudly say that we have been in the forefront of the use of the net and all the different new communications technologies during the past few decades.
The mobile cell phone technology, which has now produced the smartphones that is bringing the power of the net to even the remotest corners of the world, has its origin here in the Nordic world.
And already in 1994 we had a high - powered government commission headed by the Prime Minister - who happened to be me - declaring that within a decade Sweden should be in the global lead when it comes to the application of all aspects of these new technologies.
And that's where I believe we are today. The recent Network Readiness Report by the World Economic Forum puts Sweden first among all the nations that it is rating. With the other Nordic countries we are not only the top of Europe, but also the top of the world in these respects.
And have been in that position for a couple of years. Proud as we are of this, we are also keenly aware that technology is moving fast, politics is not standing still, the world is a dynamic place and where we will be next year or the years after that is an open question. That's on the technology side - and I think you will hear more about it tonight.
But it's also a question of values. We did not invent the Internet, and the Magna Charta might not have been written by a Swede. But we can claim a tradition stronger than most in the constitutional protection of the freedom of speech and the freedom of information.
In fact our constitutional provision in favor of freedom of information and against censorship goes back to 1776. In its latest form it dates back to 1992 - but in essence it has remained the same during the centuries when Sweden went from one of the poorest countries of Europe to one of the more developed societies of the world.
So it is the fusion of these two very strong traditions
- the somewhat more recent leadership role in the net transformation of our world, and the longer one of protection of freedom of information
- that has made it natural to make all the issues concerning the freedom of the net one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy now.
And to this should be added a third element.
- Sweden has a strong commitment to development issues. Indeed, we are one of the very few nations in the world giving one per cent of our GDP in official development aid.
And we are proud of doing so. But we know that the remarkable development of our own country during the past century and half wasn't because we got any ODA. We didn't. It was because an increasingly open and free society fostered the entrepreneurial talent of individuals and took the fruits of the emerging revolution of science and technology into ever broader sectors of our society.
That's the way it was, and that's the way it must be if we are to continue to develop in a world that is changing as fast as ours.
Our story is by no means unique. In essence, it's the story of every nation and society that has been successful during the past decades and centuries.
Two weeks ago I was in Korea. A nation that was devastated by firstly a world war and occupation and then by the war in Korea itself in 1953. When it finished most of the country was in ruins. And what there was of industrial possibilities and wealth was mainly in the North.
The two parts of the country went their very different paths - and the result is there for everyone to see. North Korea is an extremely closed society where the net is more limited and controlled than anywhere else in the world, where mobile phones have only been allowed recently and then with extreme restrictions and where the control of information is more absolute than even Stalin was able to achieve in the Soviet Union.
South Korea - the Republic of Korea - after a while opened up to a democratic path of development, respecting freedom and human right and committed to both globalization and the use of technology.
Since then South Korea has been one of the most rapidly developing economies in the world. Although it still has some restrictions in the net - primarily related to relations with the North - that tarnishes its otherwise good reputation.
I mentioned the recent Network Readiness Index in which Sweden comes out on the top. There are ten different subsets of this index. In one of the most important ones - how individual people are accessing and using the net - Sweden is still No 1, but No 2 is Korea.
And if you look at how governments are using the net I'm ashamed to say that Sweden comes out as No 10 - while it's Korea that's in the global lead. In no other country is so large a share of the households connected to the net, and in no other society is broadband so widely available.
We have better watch out.
North Korea, needless to say, does not even figure among the 141 countries of the Network Readiness Index. There is a powerful message in this - the link between freedom, the net and development.
And this is a message that I'm convinced will be more and more important in the years and decades ahead. We are entering into a world of hyper connectivity. Whichever figures you use to describe it - they are staggering.
It was only two decades or so ago that the net really started to become a reality. The web was invented in 1991, and the first commercial browser appeared in 1994. That's when it all started. And we know where we are today.
But where will we be in another decade, and another decade, and another decade? With the present pace of change, it is beyond our imagination. But of one thing we should be certain - the lesson of the development of Sweden and of the Korea's will retain its validity and its force.
And it's really around those issues that we are coming together here in Stockholm these days. We have been among those countries - let me also mention the United States and the Netherlands - launching a global diplomatic offensive for the freedom of the net.
For us, the freedom of the net and on the net is the new frontline in the fight for freedom in the world. In recent months we have been working hard within the UN Council on Human Rights with these issues - based on the excellent ant grounds - breaking report by the Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue.
It was the Internet Society in its statement at the special debate on these issues arranged by the Human Rights Council on February 29 that said that the key article - Article 19 - of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "reads like a definition of the Internet even though it was written more than 20 years before the invention of the Internet protocol".
And that is indeed the case. The task now is obvious. As the world moves online, we must not leave the protection of freedom offline. Because in a world of accelerating hyper connectivity, that would endanger freedom and human rights in a way perhaps unparalleled in recent history.
The world must not switch off freedom as it switches on the net. We all know what's happening out there. Two decades after the concrete walls dividing the old word were brought down, we see new cyber walls dividing the new world going up. The Great Firewall of China might be the most well known. But there are many walls going up in many countries.
The reports by Freedom House and others provide ample documentation. And we urgently need an agreed international framework for how to deal with them.
That's why we seek, in cooperation with like - minded countries across the globe, to continue the discussion in the Human Rights Council about the principles that must apply. The good news is that the principles are rather easy and already a part of international human rights law, and I think they have been well described in the report by Frank La Rue.
And if we succeed in the UN Human Rights Council, we will of course take the issue further in the global dialogue. We want - to take just one example - a European Union that is more active on these issues. It is, after all, about the very values that our Union is based on, and it reflects our core interests on the global stage.
There is no reason why the European Union should not be in the forefront of the global debate on these issues. Sometimes that will take us into difficult discussions also with important partner countries. But so be it. Our values are not for sale.
And in those and other discussions I believe it will be increasingly important to point out the development aspect of the issues as well. Anyone who has been following recent developments in China can see that in the battle between the hierarchies from above and the networks from below it is the former that are stumbling and the later that are gaining.
You can block the one word or the other - but then new words meaning the same thing are invented. And at the end of the day it is the free flow of information that is the best defence against the flow of false information.
In a truly networked society, censorship will simply not do the trick. And the message of history is clear: a regime afraid of information is a regime that fears its own future. Having said that, I believe it is fair also to recognize that the Chinese society is much more open today than it used to be.
And there should be no doubt that the development of the net is an important part of this important change. We see the impact even more clearly in other areas.
In February 1982 the then President of Syria, Hafez-al-Assad was able to massacre between 20,000 and 40,000 people by artillery in the city of Hama without the world knowing.
It took weeks before information started to come out, and it took years for the final truth to be established. Now there are cell phones, there is the net, there is Skype, there is YouTube and we see minute by minute, megabyte by megabyte a Syrian revolution for democracy and dignity gaining strength.
In the way it is being played out, it would simply not have been possible without these technologies. But there is a battle over the net going on in many countries.
One such country is Vietnam, where prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai now is facing a second trial on trumped - up charges of spreading propaganda against the state. Van Hai has been behind bars since 2008, and held incommunicado for the past 18 months, without being able to meet his lawyer or family. He used his blogs to expose corruption and promote human rights in Vietnam.
And look at Iran. The regime there jams satellite signals. It seeks to censors the Internet. It attempts to monitor computers and cell phones. Lately Internet restrictions have become even more severe. And bloggers are frequently jailed and harassed.
In his message for Nowrus - the Persian New Year - President Obama rightly highlighted these issues.
And he announced that the United States is lifting sanctions on services and software related to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet, including web browsing, blogging, email, instant messaging, and chat; social networking; and photo and movie sharing. That's the right way to go.
But at the same time we must seek to block the delivery to this and other similar regimes of technologies for monitoring and interception of the internet or telephone communications. The European Union has already done so with the regime in Syria and the regime in Teheran, but we should not hesitate to do it in other cases as well.
Some of us go further. Sweden has an active program to support and promote technologies that makes it possible to break through and break down the cyber walls of censorship out there. We don't talk about the details. It's the details that make the difference.
Cyber issues and issues related to the net are rising very rapidly on the global political agenda. And they are certain to be far more important in five not to speak of ten years down the line.
A lot now has to do with concerns over cyber security. Some speak about the possibility of cyber wars. Others are primarily concerned with the rapid rise of cybercrime. What's on the net certainly reflects what is there in our world today - most of it certainly good, but some of it distinctly evil.
And governments have a right and a duty to defend and to protect its citizens. But it must be done in accordance with and under the law. Nothing else should be accepted. These concerns are very valid.
But there is a risk that the concern with the security of the net will be at the expense of the concern for the freedom of the net. Some talk loudly about the security while their main concern might be to restrict the freedom. It's nothing new. We have seen it many times before in human history.
That's the more reason to be truly alert in this age of accelerating globalization and emerging hyper connectivity. All the policies must work together in support of the values we all share.
Our task - in view of all the challenges ahead of us - is to build a strong and a global alliance for freedom of and on the net in the years to come. It is the task of concerned governments, and I can assure you that the issue will be a most important one for my country Sweden.
But it is no less a task for you - concerned individuals from around the world. Your power is great, because you are riding the wave of the future, and you encompass the hopes of so many for a better world.
I hope these days in Stockholm will be truly constructive and fruitful. And that you will all leave from here being part of that new global alliance. Most welcome - and thank you.