List of Workshops Reports 2009
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Workshop Report 2009

Workshop Number: 105

Workshop Title: Preserving free expression on the internet and protecting children’s rights online

Report by: John Carr

Workshop description and list of panelists:
1) Dr. Alison Powell, Oxford Internet Institute
2) John Morris, Director, Center for Democracy and Technology
3) John Carr, European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online
4) Bjorn-Erik Ludvigsen, CIRCAMP

The actors involved in the field; various initiatives that people can connect with, and contacts for further information:
Alison Powell
Oxford Internet Institute

John Carr
European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online

A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were identified:
IGF Report Back

Alison Powell
Oxford Internet Institute

In much of the world, the internet is now an expected everywhere-always-on utility used for information gathering, communication and social networking. Yet along with its incredible power to open access to knowledge, the same characteristics that make the internet so unique (its potential for openness, its facilitation of anonymity, and the proliferation of information and content across its platforms) create concerns that undesirable content is proliferating, and that children, in particular, are being exposed to specific risks (content, interactions) that are risky.

This poses a conundrum: how to maintain the generative environment that inspires innovation and develops democracy, without increasing risk for the most vulnerable? How to design systems of governance that avoid unintended consequence?

Advocates of online child protection and freedom of expression share a deep-seated belief in the importance of protecting basic human rights. Yet these beliefs are often clouded by perceived (and real) opposition in the actual practice of law, policy, and regulation. This has restricted the policy options available for dealing with threats to both child safety and free speech online, and often resulted in these interests being portrayed as diametrically opposed.

Advocates on both sides of this debate first met in Oxford in October, 2009, to explore their different perspectives on these fundamental rights and to identify possible areas of agreement.

By defining a new framework to discuss online child protection that rejects the current moral panics that have dominated the debate, and focuses instead on accurately defining risks in line with the evolving capacity of the child, participants were able to find much common ground.

The most fruitful avenues came from calls for precision and transparency in policy responses that touch on these issues. Participants discussed how, by working together, both sides could advance their agendas and defend the rights of children while preventing child protection from being used as a strategic pretext for broader goals of censorship and repression.

As a follow up from this forum we conducted a roundtable workshop at the IGF in Sharm el Sheikh. We presented the major threads of the historic debate and then indicated ways that this debate can be expanded by mapping the common ground and continuing dissent between freedom of speech and child protection advocates.

The workshop included an excellent discussion of the unintended consequences of poorly enacted legislation and poorly enacted technological regulation.

The ongoing importance of this topic was highlighted by the strong participation by a variety of stakeholders.

Conclusions and further comments:
As an exploratory or opening discussion between two sets of advocates who normally do not meet with each other, the value and importance of this workshop was widely recognized. It was agreed that ways should be found to continue the discussions. Perhaps at next year's IGF?
...End of Report...

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