Democratic debate on policy and ideas takes place online just as it does offline. The Internet has empowered individuals across the globe to have their voices heard and has equipped governments to better respond to citizens' needs. Australia encourages states to make full use of online tools to strengthen democratic processes.
However, the decentralised and largely unregulated nature of online conversations leaves democratic processes vulnerable to malicious interference. Cyber-enabled influence operations during elections can undermine democratic processes. This has the potential to fundamentally distort political debate and democratic outcomes.
Human rights apply online just as they do offline. The Internet provides important platforms for freedom of expression and freedom of association. Instantaneous communication via the Internet helps raise awareness of human rights entitlements and human rights abuses. Stories and images of human rights abuses can be shared instantly across the world, inflicting significant reputational damage on perpetrators. This assists government authorities, non-government organisations and other stakeholders to hold human rights violators to account.
Some countries deny human rights online. In some countries, people are increasingly subject to undue restrictions on and contraventions of their rights. Illicit monitoring and targeted hacking, the arrest and intimidation of online activists, content censorship and Internet shutdowns are just some of the approaches taken to restrict human rights online. These measures are regularly employed under the pretext of national security, but are often vehicles for states to maintain political control and economic advantage.
An open, free and secure cyberspace allows human rights and democratic principles to be exercised online. Australia's commitment to human rights underpins our engagement with the international community.
Australia is a committed supporter of human rights and democracy, both online and offline. Australia believes that the universal protection and promotion of human rights and democratic principles online is vital to achieve lasting peace, security, freedom and dignity for all.
Of particular relevance in cyberspace are the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association, and the protection against arbitrary interference with privacy. Each of these rights are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Australia is committed to seeing freedom of expression protected online, just as it is offline. Australia condemns politically motivated Internet censorship, Internet shutdowns, illicit monitoring, targeted hacking, and the arrest and intimidation of online activists, journalists and others.
Australia's support for human rights online has been articulated through a number of United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly resolutions and statements, and by virtue of its membership of the Freedom Online Coalition. Australia is seeking a seat on the Human Rights Council for the 2018–2020 term, and the right to freedom of expression is a key element of our campaign pledges. This reflects Australia's commitment to ongoing promotion and protection of human rights, both online and offline.
An open, free and secure cyberspace also strengthens social, cultural and political rights by facilitating greater connectivity and engagement within and between populations. Attempts to circumscribe and restrict use of the Internet impinges on these rights. Australia will use bilateral and international engagement to raise concerns about impermissible restrictions on human rights online. We will also raise concerns about cyber-enabled interference in democratic processes.
Australia will couple advocacy with capacity building programs in the Indo-Pacific, which will raise awareness among regional governments of human rights obligations online and offline. Also important is equipping law enforcement agencies with the capacity to detect human rights abuses online, disrupt these abuses and safeguard against future abuses. Australia will also encourage and support partner countries to engage in international forums that work to protect human rights online.
Australia will demonstrate our commitment to the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Australia consults regularly with the private sector on human rights and has established a multi-stakeholder advisory group on businesses and human rights. Australia will use these mechanisms to discuss human rights and democracy online.
6.01 - Advocate to uphold and protect human rights and democratic freedoms online
6.02 - Share concerns about, and aim to prevent, undue restrictions of human rights online as well as cyber-enabled interference in democratic processes
6.03 - Fund capacity building in the Indo-Pacific to raise awareness of states' human rights obligations online
Non-government organisations play a vital role in the protection of human rights and democratic freedoms online. These organisations often have broad civil society networks and are acutely aware of the challenges facing human rights defenders in the digital environment.
In addition to its international human rights advocacy efforts, Australia will provide financial support to international organisations protecting human rights and democratic freedoms online, such as the Freedom Online Coalition and Digital Defenders Partnership (see below).
The Freedom Online Coalition is a group of 30 member governments, including Australia, which work together to support Internet freedom and protect human rights online. The Freedom Online Coalition's founding declaration commits to the principle that the human rights people have offline, enjoy the same protection online.
Coalition members share information on violations of human rights online and coordinate diplomatic efforts to eliminate measures that curtail human rights online. The Coalition also provides a platform for multi-stakeholder engagement on human rights online, including with the private sector.
In support of this effort, the Digital Defenders Partnership, which emerged from the Freedom Online Conference in Kenya in 2012, provides grants that support defenders of human rights online, including non-government organisations, civil society, journalists and media organisations.
6.04 - Support non-government organisations that defend human rights online
Increased connectivity and access to the Internet can bring many benefits. However, increased connectivity also increases the possibility for misuse of the Internet to restrict human rights and opportunities for democratic participation.
To guard against this, Australia will ensure respect for and protection of human rights online is included in Australian development assistance programs that include digital technology components. Australia will encourage governments and non-government organisations to ensure that technology and cyberspace are used in accordance with human rights obligations.
6.05 - Provide guidance to ensure that human rights online are protected in Australian aid and non-government projects with digital technology components