Cyber and Information ethics: Fostering and enabling freedom on the Internet


Action Line C10 Ethical dimension of the Information Society, WSIS Forum 2012

Webcast (Webcast is provided in REAL media Format)

The notion of cyber and information ethics has emerged from the interplay of human interactions and values with the emerging technologies, use of information and virtual spaces of the information society. The new modes of interaction, the trans-boundary, trans-jurisdictional and ubiquitous nature of these interactions and spaces pose opportunities for advancing human development but also risks for entrenching existing inequities and creating new ones.

These developments also represent new paradigms of social, political, economic and even cultural organization.

It is desirable that the virtual spaces and the use of information contribute to societies and spaces that are peaceful, just, and inclusive and which foster the full expression of human rights. Questions therefore arise regarding roles, responsibilities and values for guiding behavior, making choices; including technical ones; within these virtual spaces. Equally challenging are questions around constraints in the physical worlds, often collectively referred to as “digital divide”, that impact the extent to which persons can access, participate fully and benefit from the virtual spaces.

This session examined a small subset of the opportunities, challenges and dilemmas in the field of cyber and information ethics with an emphasis on exploring these in the context of fostering and enabling freedom on the Internet.
key issues/trends:

  • Technology is enabling decentralized approaches to policy/decision-making that allows for the involvement of more persons. While it may take longer it appears to lead to more democratic decision-making accompanied by increased trust and accountability amongst the participants.
  • Business see human rights as a positive contribution to online commerce with more and more businesses voluntarily adopting codes of practice. These efforts are serving to provide consistency and predictable frameworks both off-line and on-line with appropriate checks, balances and protections for all stakeholders.
  • It appears that use-driven models may provide better alternatives than consumer-driven and regulatory focused approaches to understanding the drivers of social change and ethical behavior on-line amongst individual and groups.
  • Information literacy is essential for empowering users to make informed choices as well as for enabling them to exercise and protect their rights in the complex technical on-line environment.
  • While beneficial in helping to expand our freedom, technologies can be disruptive. Our organizations and societies need to become sufficiently flexible to cope with the social upheavals that technology bring. For example, while there is still resistance to multi-stakeholder approaches as more and more persons are born “digital” expectations of increased involvement in governance and decisions-making is likely to increase. Organizations that are not flexible enough to evolve with such shifts may lose their relevance.


Moderator: Ms Mika Yamanaka, UNESCO, Communication and Information Sector

  • New technologies, social transformations and ethics (video message is available on the right)
    John Crowely, Division of Ethics and Global Change, Social & Human Science Sector, UNESCO
  • Policy and Internet freedom 
    Mr. Lee Hibbard, Council of Europe
  • Business and Internet freedom 
    Ms. Theresa Swinehart, Verizon Communications
  • Technology and Internet freedom
    Mr. Nicolas Seidler, Internet Society
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