No Disconnect: EU launches strategy to support Internet users and cyber-activists in authoritarian regimes

The EU has appointed a former German Defence Minister to advise on how to provide ongoing support to Internet users, bloggers and cyber-activists living under authoritarian regimes, as part of its ‘No Disconnect Strategy’, launched in Brussels today to protect internet access as a driver of political freedom.
Announcing the Strategy, the Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told a press conference that the Arab Spring had been a wake-up call. She said that in Egypt, social media allowed people to bypass state-run media, and pointed out that in 1982 in Syria, the Hama massacre had been hidden for months: “In 2011 video-sharing services helped expose regime abuses. They made us aware and better able to take action.”
“Repressive regimes now understand the power of these networks and have tried to turn them off,” she added. “They did not succeed. And the EU is working to ensure online rights are respected like offline rights.”
Expressing her support for the initiative, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton said: “The right to communicate freely is a key part of basic human rights. The Internet and social media have become an important way of promoting freedom of expression. That's why the EU is determined to resist any unjustified restrictions on the Internet and other new media.”
Kroes said she had invited Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former Federal Minister of Defence, and of Economics and Technology, in Germany, to assist her on the issue.
This appointment is a key element of the new ‘No Disconnect Strategy’ to uphold the EU's commitment to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected both online and off-line, and that internet and other information and communication technology (ICT) can remain a driver of political freedom, democratic development and economic growth.
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg will liaise with Member States, third countries and NGOs which are committed to work in this area and advise on how to advance the strategy in a co-ordinated and effective manner. Kroes said his experience would be crucial: “As a former head of armed and security services, with deep experience in foreign affairs, I know Karl-Theodor can have the right conversations and give internet freedom the prominence it deserves.”
The ‘No Disconnect Strategy’ will assist people in four ways:
1      Developing and providing technological tools to enhance privacy and security of people living in non-democratic regimes when using ICT.
2      Educating and raising awareness of activists about the opportunities and risks of ICT. In particular assisting activists to make best use of tools such as social networks and blogs while raising awareness of surveillance risks when communicating via ICT.
3      Gathering high quality intelligence about what is happening on the ground in order to monitor the level of surveillance and censorship at a given time, in a given place.
4      Cooperation. Developing a practical way to ensure that all stakeholders can share information on their activity and promote multilateral action and building cross-regional cooperation to protect human rights.
Vide-President Kroes said she could not speak publicly about all the elements of the strategy, but highlighted three of its most important actions:
  • Deployment of "Internet survival packs" to activists. Easy-to-use software/hardware packages helping people to bypass censorship and counter surveillance.
  • Stimulating EU companies to develop self-regulatory approaches (or join existing ones, such as the Global Network Initiative) so they stop selling despots their ICT tools of repression
  • Hosting support – to help prohibited content reach its audience (blogs and videos for example) and to allow anonymous usage of the internet
The Joint Communication, "A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean" committed the European Commission to develop tools to allow the EU, in appropriate cases, to assist civil society organisations or individual citizens to circumvent arbitrary disruptions to access to electronic communications technologies, including the internet. This followed evidence of such disruption or attempted disruption by authoritarian governments during the Arab Spring uprising, for example in Egypt. (ENPI Info Centre)
Read more
Press release
Neelie Kroes press conference
Neelie Kroes website
Follow Neelie Kroes on Twitter
Catherine Ashton website


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