8 March 2013
Education is the path to a better Internet
To make the Internet safer, European countries should favour education and empowerment over centralized policing, argues the European Economic and Social Committee.
Social networking and new online technologies have triggered the development of flexible communication tools across a broad spectrum of our lives, work and culture. At the same time, however, the growth of the digital society has given rise to potentially harmful or illegal content and activities, exposing Internet users to substantial risks.
These opportunities and challenges touch upon such issues as users' fundamental rights, the applicable regulatory approaches or the form that international and EU co-operation should take.
The EESC's one-day conference entitled "Towards a more responsible use of the internet: The European civil society perspective" was organised to discuss if and how a balance can be struck between online freedom of expression and the protection of personal dignity and privacy.
"Censorship is not an option, nor is an "anything goes" approach," said Laure Batut, EESC Member (Workers' Group, France) and rapporteur for several EESC opinions on the digital market and digital literacy and e-skills.
She called for a new approach combining "awareness-raising campaigns aimed at the digitally active and a sharper focus on education and information". Her view was echoed by Catherine Noone, an Irish senator, who said that "individual education and empowerment will always be far more effective than centralized policing".
Many participants came out in favour of industry self-regulation, which they argued was better-suited for ensuring the protection of users online than stringent, binding regulations. "With technology and the online world changing at breakneck pace, the legislation risks becoming obsolete very fast," cautioned EESC-Vice-President Anna-Maria Darmanin.
"Any laws enacted to protect netizens must not restrict or compromise their freedom and autonomy," said MEP Amelia Andersdotter adding that a citizen-focused policy framework for responsible internet use was possible to create.
Elvana Thaci, who represented the Council of Europe, argued for using existing rights to ensure the protection of online users. "The application of existing human rights should be extended to cover people who are active on the Internet", she said.
Turning to the process in which a new approach to protecting Internet users should be established, Ms Darmanin was adamant that this should be achieved by means of "an intensive, multi-stakeholder dialogue and increased international coordination, reflecting the views and needs of people from vulnerable groups".
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