Ambassador Michèle Taylor
Remarks to the Freedom Online Coalition
2023 Strategy and Coordination Meeting
Good morning, excellencies, distinguished representatives, members, observers, and advisors of the Freedom Online Coalition and thank you, Ambassador Geissbuhler for hosting us today. It is both a pleasure and an honor to help convene this gathering here in Geneva to kick off the final Strategy and Coordination Meeting of 2023, and the last where the United States stands before you as chair.
As we start off the day, I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on our activities and accomplishments this year. Geneva is the epicenter of international policymaking and norm setting for both technology and human rights, making it only natural for the Geneva Diplomatic Network to play an important role in the FOC’s global work. The U.S. has spent the last year as Chair looking to reinvigorate the Coalition, in line with our Summit for Democracy commitment.
In the spring of this year, at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, we raised our unified voices to champion the human rights that form the cornerstone of our respective democracies. We recognized not only the promises but also the perils of technology; how it can both liberate and subjugate. Our joint statement encapsulated the shared ethos that governments must act as enablers, not inhibitors, of individual rights in the digital age.
Building upon that momentum, we organized a pivotal side event at HRC 53. There, we delved into the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, exploring pragmatic ways to ensure that technology serves as a tool for the emancipation, not the suppression, of our global citizenry.
Later in the summer, we hosted a learning call on artificial intelligence and a virtual call with the FOC Advisory Network and FOC members in Geneva and New York to discuss the UN’s Global Digital Compact.
Gathering in Geneva as a coalition gave us opportunities to reflect on our shared values and commitments when it comes to protecting and preserving human rights online as well as offline. The year started with our kick-off reception at the U.S. Mission. At a reception at my residence ahead of the fall HRC session, we came together in as a community in friendship, and through candid conversations agreed that collectively we can hold strong on the values that we share throughout the UN, particularly when it comes to language norms and protecting the universality and individual realization of human rights.
At the most recent HRC session, we issued a groundbreaking joint statement on the responsible use of surveillance technology, based on the FOC’s “Guiding Principles on Government Use of Surveillance Technologies.” Across the world, we observe governments misusing surveillance technologies to curtail access to information, to stifle human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to harass human rights defenders, journalists, and other vulnerable communities. Our statement made it clear that we must address this disconcerting trend, lest these tools serve as instruments of oppression rather than of protection.
We are incredibly heartened by the cross regional support the joint statement drew. Not only did every FOC member join, we also attracted the support of an additional ten countries that also supported the FOC Guiding Principles at the Second Summit for Democracy and an additional 11 countries that had never before supported limitations on surveillance technology at the UN. This diverse set of signatories demonstrates the vital role the FOC plays in pushing the international community to do more, act faster, and tackle hard issues.
These efforts build on efforts the FOC has carried out virtually and in other international technology hubs around the world. In addition to the Guiding Principles on Surveillance Technology, we launched the Donor Principles for Human Rights in the Digital Age; held four strategy and coordination meetings on the sidelines of key international convenings; hosted four FOC sessions at RightsCon and five sessions at the Internet Governance Forum; and held briefings in New York on the Global Digital Compact and in Geneva on AI and human rights; among countless other activities.
So, as we proceed with the vital work that lies ahead and look toward turning the chairship over to the Netherlands, I invite each of us to remain fully engaged, to contribute our invaluable insights, and to continue to be the torchbearers of freedom and human dignity in the online sphere. Together, we can ensure that technology serves as a force for freedom, not for repression.
I look forward to your continued partnership, your contributions to the debates ahead, and your support for the joint statement. To that end, please join me in a round of applause for our collective work this year—for the Freedom Online Coalition, our shared principles, and the brighter digital future we aim to build.