Four special representatives for the price of one!

Four special representatives from major intergovernmental agencies have signed a joint statement on international mechanisms for promoting freedom of expression.

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information…

…outlined some of the threats to freedom of expression, especially online, and the basic principles for safeguarding this fundamental right.

Highlights include:

“Freedom of expression applies to the Internet, as it does to all means of communication.”

“Approaches to regulation developed for other means of communication – such as telephony or broadcasting – cannot simply be transferred to the Internet but, rather, need to be specifically designed for it.”

On the subject of intermediary liability…

“No one who simply provides technical Internet services such as providing access, or searching for, or transmission or caching of information, should be liable for content generated by others”.

On filtering/blocking…

“Content filtering systems which are imposed by a government or commercial service provider and which are not end-user controlled are a form of prior censorship and are not justifiable as a restriction on freedom of expression.”

On net neutrality…

“There should be no discrimination in the treatment of Internet data and traffic, based on the device, content, author, origin and/or destination of the content, service or application.”

On access…

“Giving effect to the right to freedom of expression imposes an obligation on States to promote universal access to the Internet.”

“Cutting off access to the Internet, or parts of the Internet, for whole populations or segments of the public (shutting down the Internet) can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds. The same applies to slow-downs imposed on the Internet or parts of the Internet.”

This statement shows that there is widespread consensus on the principles that should inform internet policy. However, in practice, the statement notes that these principles are increasingly being violated by states and intermediaries. This juxtaposition highlights the need for universal standards in internet governance, such as those outlined in APC’s Internet Rights Charter.

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