The number of people connecting to and using the Internet is expanding rapidly,  but so too are concerns about freedom online. The role of libraries in giving access to information, and the skills needed to know how to use it, is centuries old, but has a particular relevance today. The Freedom Online Conference, held on 17-19 October 2016 in San Jose, Costa Rica, provided an opportunity to underline the contribution libraries make to a free, trusted, and sustainable Internet.

While levels of internet use are already high in richer countries, the scope for growth is still significant in developing ones. Helen Ladron de Guevara, representing IFLA’s FAIFE Committee, underlined that with 52% annual increases in the number of people online, millions of people are faced for the first time with a new information environment.

In order to get the best out of this information, as well as to stay safe, Internet users need to have the knowledge and skills necessary to take decisions on what to trust, and what to share. There needs also to be constant vigilance around behaviour, both by state and private actors, which risks limiting or unduly influencing access to information.

In both cases, libraries have an essential role, as the representative of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs underlined during debates. The IFLA advisory committee on Freedom of Access to Information and Freedom of Expression (FAIFE) has long worked to promote discussion, raise awareness, and provide guidance on how best to fulfil this. This can be through informal advice, training, work with children, and engagement in advocacy work.

FAIFE’s manifestos and guidelines, notably the Internet Manifesto, the statement on Privacy in the Library Environment, and most recently statements on the Right to Be Forgotten and Net Neutrality, are available to all to support them in this mission. They contribute to the drive to maintain freedom online, and so to an inclusive and trusted Internet.

In turn, if the Internet can realise its potential to provide access to information, in line with goal 16.10 of the UN 2030 Agenda, it will make a major contribution to achieving sustainable development for all.

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