Council of Europe platform between governments and major Internet companies on respect for human rights and rule of law online – 2016

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9 June 2016 | 14:30-16:00
Programme overview 2016

Draft agenda

  1. Introduction by Ambassador Dirk van Eeckhout, Ambassador of Belgium to the Council of Europe, Thematic co-ordinator on Information Policy of the Committee of Ministers
  2. Tour de table - topics of major importance for business (see note 1)
  3. Terms of Service and Human Rights: an analysis of the contracts of online platforms, by the Center for Technology and Society at Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School, Brazil (see note 2), presented by Marilia Maciel and Luca Belli
  4. Open discussion on greater inclusion, exchange of information and expertise, and co-operation with business in Council of Europe frameworks:
a. Christian Borggreen, International Policy, Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA Europe)
b. Patrice Chazerand, DIGITALEUROPE
c. Piret Urb, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Estonia
d. Mark Carvell, UK Government, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

Session description

CoE side event on the occasion of EuroDIG 2016 (Brussels, 10 June 2016)

On 30 March 2016, the Council of Europe adopted a new Internet governance strategy 2016-2019 which focuses inter alia on the setting-up of a platform between governments and major Internet companies and representative associations on their respect for human rights and the rule of law online, including on measures (such as model contractual arrangements for the terms of service of Internet platforms, and principles of accountability and transparency to the multi-stakeholder community regarding the collection, storage and analysis of personal data) to protect, respect and remedy challenges and violations to them.

In a press release issued on 4 April 2016, the Commisioner for Human Rights underlined that the effects of business practices on human rights have become a central issue for human rights protection. He continued by saying that the right to privacy and freedom of expression have become major themes with reference to private companies which control and operate on the Internet and the wider digital environment (see note 3). He also referred to a recent survey carried out by The Economist (see note 4) which highlighted that many businesses have started to view themselves as important actors in respecting human rights.

While it is the task of governments to secure for everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, there is now wide recognition that businesses should respect human rights. This is confirmed by the Committee of Ministers in a Declaration in 2014 (see note 5) and a Recommendation in 2016 (see note 6).

The Internet enables the exercise of these rights and freedoms. At the same time, the fast pace of technological change coupled with the cross-border delivery of Internet service makes it a challenge to protect and enforce these rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, the Internet has also become an instrument of choice for terrorists spreading propaganda, the recruitment of terrorists and the development of terrorist operations. Cybercrime is rapidly increasing. There can be confusion regarding the choice of law and jurisdiction to apply when securing evidence in the cloud. More broadly, the protection of personal data and the right to privacy online are at odds with the very nature of the Internet which is to facilitate the free flow of data in an open environment. There are many other concerns, such as hate speech, abusive forms of expression online, and the blocking, filtering and takedown of Internet content a comparative law study on which has been commissioned by the Secretary General.

Considering these challenges, there is an important need for governments and Internet companies to meet and discuss these challenges and to see together what they should do to address them. The Council of Europe seeks to offer a unique setting to foster co-operation between governments and business in order to protect Internet users and promote the Internet as one trusted space for all.


  1. For example no hate speech online, privacy, child safety, mass surveillance, trans-border data flows, cybersecurity, ‘Internet of Things’, law enforcement access to data across borders, human rights for Internet users.
  2. The Terms of Service and Human Rights Project by the Center for Technology and Society at Fundação Getúlio Vargas Law School in Rio de Janeiro developed a methodology to analyse the degree of protection of privacy, freedom of expression and due process offered by the Terms of Service (ToS) of a variety of online platforms. The standards identified as a basis for the methodology derive from existing international human rights documents, notably including the Council of Europe's Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users. The Project has analysed the policies of a corpus of 50 platforms in a pilot experience aimed at enhancing the methodology and identifying the main practices adopted by platform providers. Some of the main goals of the project are to: (i) trigger international debate on the role of online platforms’ providers as cyber-regulators and fulfil their responsibility to respect human rights; (ii) produce evidence on the impact of ToS on individuals’ human rights; and (iii) put forward concrete policy recommendations to enhance the respect of users’ rights.
  3. Commissioner for Human Rights issue paper on the rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world.
  4. The road from principles to practice - today’s challenges for business in respecting human rights, The Economist, 16 March 2015.
  5. Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the UN Guiding Principles on business and human rights.
  6. Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on human rights and business.