'Officials must perceive internet as additional tool of serving people'

Mon 13 May 2013 12:22 GMT | 17:22 Local Time

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Interview with chief of the department for political analysis and information support of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan, Elnur Aslanov.

Today it is possible to say that social networks have become developing rapidly and further integrating in our life, incorporate many functions-social, behavioral and even political. How can you explain this phenomenon?

Right. In general, the phenomenon of social  networks attracts a growing attention of both researchers and politicians. Many observers say that it is possible to speak about the appearance of a new form of social self-organization, including its political component.

Speaking about this phenomenon, it is necessary to recall the theory of six handshakings. Under this hypothesis, tested in the late 1960s, every person in the world is indirectly familiar with any other person via a short chain of common acquaintances of six people on average.

In the moment of its appearance, the hypothesis seemed unrealistic. But today we see that local and global transformations occur via social networks. Development of computer and telecommunication technologies, particularly, appearance of the global network motivated the restoration of interest to this theory. The services that benefit from this principle have finally appeared.

As a result, such organization as Pew research Center in its report released in late April, says that social networks have become another ‘hot point’ in the United States.In line with this report called ‘Civil Engagement in the Digital Age’, over 39% of adults in US were involved anyway in political activity in the Internet communities on the process of the presidential campaign in the United States in 2012. To compare, during the previous presidential elections in 2008, only 26% of Americans used social networks in the United States in any form.

Thus, if earlier, the relations between the United States that traditionally formed the political agenda and their audience were built on the principle of descending hierarchy, today a horizontal hierarchy is observed in the interaction of digital information media and audience.

You have noted the growing role of social networks in the political life of the society. And how are the things going in Azerbaijan? How does the state react to such a trend?

President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly stated that the freedom of the Internet is one of the major achievements of the country. Today about 65% of the population of Azerbaijan are Internet users, hundreds of bloggers, more than a million people use Facebook, while other social platforms are also becoming an important factor in the life of our society. The majority of Internet users are young people, which is about 60% of the population. Thus, we can say that the future development of IC technologies in the country is predefined. The attention of the President to the field, of course, determines everything – because the declaration of 2013 as “The Year of ICT" is clear evidence of the president’s attention to this area.
If we analyze the national realities, it would be clear that the five basic elements of freedom of the Internet, as specified by the US Department of State, fully correspond to the realities of Azerbaijan.

It is, first of all, "freedom of speech": blogs, e-mail, text messages, and open forums for the exchange of ideas, "freedom of religion":  Internet gives people more opportunities to promote moral and ethical values, "freedom from needs": communication via Internet expands knowledge and economic opportunities of the people, particularly by opening them access to new markets, "freedom from fear of persecution":free flow of information, lack of threats to individual freedoms, economy and civil society, as well as "freedom of connectivity": communicating with people living in different parts of the world offers unprecedented opportunities for human cooperation.

Thus, Azerbaijan clearly demonstrates its commitment to the protection of the rights and freedom of the citizen in the issue of freedom of Internet.

The state does not interfere with the exchange of ideas that takes place in the virtual space. We are fully committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all people have the right to "seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Some opposition media report about restrictions allegedly imposed on the use of Internet. What do you think about it?


Azerbaijan has fully secured the freedom of speech, expression, and, in particular, the possibility of expression on the Internet. Therefore, any speculation about any restrictions on the Internet, firstly, do not correspond to reality and are far from the truth, and secondly, it is clear for people that are more or less aware of the information technologies that such actions do not work, being not effective and simply counterproductive. Anyone who resorts to such measures should be aware that this is a Sisyphean task.

All existing and proposed legislative acts can and must be designed not to limit but to regulate the Internet space.
At the same time, both critics and pessimists have to remember the traffic rules – roads would have been in chaos without the presence of a set of rights and duties of the road traffic. Many people forget that in order to confront global challenges in the coming years and decades, it is necessary to have a legal framework that prevents the emergence and spread of portals of racist, nationalist, extremist orientation, and other criminally oriented electronic resources, including resources defiling the youth. And it is quite natural.

Some opposition-minded media talk about the "increasing influence of the state in social networks from a prism to limit the freedoms of a citizen". Is this true position?

It is important to be able to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. In a society, both representatives of various parties and social organizations often voice the idea of regulating the Internet space. Such practices and, in general, such standards are not new for the international community. Over the past few years, the essence of the Internet, the content and form of user interaction have changed. With this in mind, the rules governing standards of conduct in national segments of the worldwide web are changing and improving throughout the civilized world.

For example, according to statements made by Google, there is currently multiple - 70%t - increase in requests of authorities for information about users, including personal information. In this case, the largest customer and the consumer is the country that is more inclusive in talks about freedom of speech and freedom of the Internet space - the Government of the United States. According to figures published in February 2013, the U.S. special services tried to get similar information in more than 31,000 cases last year, while the authorization by the courts to do so in most cases is simply absent.

By the way, attempts to regulate the national Internet space in the United States date back to 1996. It was then "Communications Decency Act" was submitted for consideration.

At the same time, it must be remembered that in the U.S., due to the difference in the federal law and state law, the bureaucratic system works differently. For example, while the official position of the United States protects the freedom of speech in cyberspace, some states impose restrictions, including on social networking.

Despite the fact that many in the U.S. are afraid of the situation with the "Big Brother" described by George Orwell in his novel "1984", some states - for example, such as North Carolina and Maryland, have adopted laws that restrict contact between teachers and students in the social networks. The same way was followed in the UK - many cities, such as Manchester, accepted doctrine, which forbids teachers to use social networks to communicate with their students.

To date, nearly half of American States filter the Internet on the basis of regional laws that apply to state-funded schools and libraries, which, given the vagueness of some wording, serves nothing more than a method of tight control of the national Internet space.

It is also the place to note a separate government structure in France, which tracks execution of the law that controls the distribution of materials. HADOPI is a law passed in France in 2009 and the agency of the same name monitors its implementation.

After the adoption of this law, critics called it the most stringent law to regulate the content and copyrights in the world. This is in addition to the fact that in 2000 a French court presided over by Judge Jean-Jacques Gomez demanded Yahoo! to restrict access to any Nazi and neo-Nazi materials available for users located in France, having decided on the basis of the existing legislation on the real, not virtual sphere. As a result, Google began to filter its services in accordance with French law. Also, today centralized filters that would close access of schoolchildren to sites of racist, anti-Semitic and neo-fascist orientation are introduced in France at the government level.

So the policy of behavior on the World Wide Web, providing protection for the younger generation from radical and racist information, is the practice of developed countries, and the whole civilized world. There cannot and should not be any debate about restriction of political or civil rights on the worldwide web.

At the beginning of the year, it was said and written, including in the reports on Azerbaijan by international human rights organizations - in particular, the Freedom House – about the relationship between the development of social networks and their influence on the political agenda.

According to the annual survey by The Caucasus Barometer 2012 for the last year, published by Caucasus Research Resource Centers, CRRC, data on Azerbaijan show that about half of the population believes that Azerbaijan is a fully democratic country with minor problems. Also, the report noted that in the democratic development, Azerbaijan is a cut above the other two countries of the South Caucasus - Georgia and Armenia.

In the protests in Azerbaijan - more than half of the citizens of Armenia (66%) and Georgia (55%) indicated the need to protest against the government, while more than 70% of respondents in Azerbaijan preferred traditional democratic methods of will.

So here reveals a very interesting fact.

First, it proves once again what we have said repeatedly. The methodology of a number of organizations, including Freedom House, to assess the level of democracy in the newly independent states does not correspond to modern realities. This organization was established many years ago as one of the pillars of confrontation with the Soviet Union, and today when there is no bipolar world order, as the world has become multipolar, its methodology has outlived its usefulness.

Second, it demonstrates once again that the collection of data based on the over 40-year-old methodology and ultimately erroneous empirical analysis does not reflect the real attitude of the population to a particular issue.

Third, democratic development in one country may not be a cliché for the development of the other. Each country has its own peculiarity, its path of development, both in economic and political spheres. Democratic traditions and institutions are developing more effectively with a corresponding economic growth.

That is why the President has repeatedly stressed that the processes of economic and democratic development are carried out in parallel rather than in isolation from each other.

Thus, the labels in the analysis of the level of democracy have outlived their usefulness, in principle, so did the methodology of some organizations, developed over 40 years ago, during the "Cold War".

Around the world, there is a tendency of state structures to simplify the principles of work with population. Given the ever-increasing level of ICT development in Azerbaijan, does it make sense to talk about the need to review the principles of communication between citizens and the state apparatus?


Understanding that Azerbaijan forms generation of citizens, whose daily life is connected with a computer, a mobile communication device and the Internet, government agencies expand already existing channels of communication - hotlines, call centers, etc., as well as increase the number of new communication platforms with citizens.

We create all the conditions that simplify the procedure of interaction between citizens and authorities, taking into account the interests of citizens, private organizations and businesses. In addition to providing opportunities for participation in public policy development, our initiatives are designed to provide an already formed set of public services, in which personal interaction between the state and the applicant is minimized and information technology is used as much as possible.

Given the accessibility of the Internet, the population has the opportunity to express their point of view, and also to participate in the life of the country by means of modern information and communication technology, using, in addition to the official sites, even the major social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

With this in mind, public institutions form and should shape their policies in accordance with the requirements of the time, offering both  multilingual format, as well as flexibility in terms of working with population on new platforms.

Today the Presidential Administration and a number of other government agencies are represented in the new Internet platforms. Of course, we have yet the objective to strengthen and improve this trend, because, this step is only a part of the updated paradigm to improve the competitiveness of our country.

I want to emphasize that an official must possess mechanisms of communication with the public in perfection and perceive the Internet as an additional tool to serve the people, because thanks to the World Wide Web, we get the opportunity of a more interactive communication between the government and people.

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