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Community Voices: MEP Marietje Schaake on how governments are key stakeholders for human rights online

The Community Voices series highlights the work of our community — civil society organizations, governments, companies, human rights defenders, and startups — in the lead up to, during, and after RightsCon.

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch politician and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Netherlands. From the outset of her career, Schaake distinguished herself in the European Parliament as one of the few parliamentarians to embrace the now ubiquitous platforms and technologies that are the defining characteristics of the contemporary media environment – her 2009 election manifesto was expressed in 10 tweets, and she shares all of her interventions in parliament on both YouTube and her own website.

Beyond her own early understanding of the impact of technology, she has been a champion for human rights, serving on the committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights. She founded the European Parliament Intergroup on the Digital Agenda for Europe, pushing forward her belief that “governments remain key stakeholders when it comes to rights online.”

According to Schaake, inviting representatives from all sectors – government, businesses, civil society, and academia – to connect in one space can bridge existing gaps between technology and policy circles and, in the end, lead to better results. This is a perspective Schaake has contributed to RightsCon as a speaker and participant first in San Francisco, in 2012, and again in Brussels, in 2017.

As governments around the world grapple with both the opportunities and challenges posed by rapid technological development – data protection and regulation, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and other emerging issues – she points to three barriers they must overcome: “one is speed, two is geography, three is knowledge.”

In confronting these challenges, Schaake has maintained the need for a rights-based approach rooted in respect for the rule of law – an approach she says is crucial in everything she does. She points to the failure of self-regulation, evidenced by events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal as well as her own encounter with censorship by Google’s algorithm, noting instead in an article for The Guardian this year the need to “create mechanisms for oversight and accountability” in order to “know the extent to which profit-driven social media platforms truly respect the principles that protect fair competition, privacy rights, access to information and freedom of expression.”

Schaake notes the importance of defending spaces to come together, like RightsCon, where government representatives can meet with civil society and other key stakeholders to ask questions, share insights, and develop agendas for change. RightsCon offers a positive and productive environment that helps to overcome what Schaake describes as interactions that are not always the most constructive in other contexts. Dynamic meetings, panels, and workshops held during the summit enable participants to build relationships on a local, regional, and global level to confront those issues found at the intersection of technology and human rights.