Internet Freedom

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Internet Freedom

Internet Freedom in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): On June 10, 2011, the United States joined 39 other countries in a joint statement introduced by Sweden at the Human Rights Council on freedom of expression on the internet. The joint statement, available at (internet link) sweden.gov.se/sb/d/14194/a/170566, included the following:

The Internet should not be used as a platform for activities prohibited in human rights law. However, we believe, as does the Special Rapporteur, that there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information on the Internet. Only in a few exceptional and limited circumstances can restrictions on content be acceptable. Such restrictions must comply with international human rights law, notably article 19 of the ICCPR. We consider Government-initiated closing down of the Internet, or major parts thereof, for purposes of suppressing free speech, to be in violation of freedom of expression. In addition, Governments should not mandate a more restrictive standard for intermediaries than is the case with traditional media regarding freedom of expression or hold intermediaries liable for content that they transmit or disseminate.

At the 18th session of the Human Rights Council in September 2011, the United States joined consensus on a decision to hold a panel discussion during the March 2012 session on the subject of freedom of expression on the internet. U.N. Doc A/HRC/DEC/18/119.

Secretary Clinton addressed a conference on internet freedom at The Hague hosted by the Netherlands in December 2011. Her remarks, excerpted below, are available at (internet link) humanrights.gov/2011/12/09/secretary-clinton-on-internet-freedom-transcript/. Secretary Clinton suggested the need for technology companies to practice good self-governance, rejected the call or a single global code of internet governance, and encouraged efforts to increase on-line access for people around the world. For additional statements and information on internet freedom, see the State Department's webpage on internet freedom, (internet link) state.gov/e/eb/cip/netfreedom/index.htm.

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…[T]oday, as people increasingly turn to the internet to conduct important aspects of their lives, we have to make sure that human rights are as respected online as offline. After all, the right to express one's views, practice one's faith, peacefully assemble with others to pursue political or social change—these are all rights to which all human beings are entitled, whether they choose to exercise them in a city square or an internet chat room. And just as we have worked together since the last century to secure these rights in the material world, we must work together in this century to secure them in cyberspace.

This is an urgent task. It is most urgent, of course, for those around the world whose words are now censored, who are imprisoned because of what they or others have written online, who are blocked from accessing entire categories of internet content, or who are being tracked by governments seeking to keep them from connecting with one another.

Developments

…[I]ncidents worldwide remind us of the stakes in this struggle. And the struggle does not belong only to those on the front lines and who are suffering. It belongs to all of us: first, because we all have a responsibility to support human rights and fundamental freedoms everywhere. Second, because the benefits of the network grow as the number of users grow. The internet is not exhaustible or competitive. My use of the internet doesn't diminish yours. On the contrary, the more people that are online and contributing ideas, the more valuable the entire network becomes to all the other users. In this way, all users, through the billions of individual choices we make about what information to seek or share, fuel innovation, enliven public debates, quench a thirst for knowledge, and connect people in ways that distance and cost made impossible just a generation ago.

But when ideas are blocked, information deleted, conversations stifled, and people constrained in their choices, the internet is diminished for all of us. What we do today to preserve fundamental freedoms online will have a profound effect on the next generation of users. More than two billion people are now connected to the internet, but in the next 20 years, that number will more than double. And we are quickly approaching the day when more than a billion people are using the internet in repressive countries. The pledges we make and the actions we take today can help us determine whether that number grows or shrinks, or whether the meaning of being on the internet is totally distorted.

Details

… I'd like to briefly discuss three specific challenges that defenders of the internet must confront.

The first challenge is for the private sector to embrace its role in protecting internet freedom. Because whether you like it or not, the choices that private companies make have an impact on how information flows or doesn't flow on the internet and mobile networks. They also have an impact on what governments can and can't do, and they have an impact on people on the ground.

In recent months, we've seen cases where companies, products, and services were used as tools of oppression. Now, in some instances, this cannot be foreseen, but in others, yes, it can. A few years ago, the headlines were about companies turning over sensitive information about political dissidents. Earlier this year, they were about a company shutting down the social networking accounts of activists in the midst of a political debate. Today's news stories are about companies selling the hardware and software of repression to authoritarian governments. When companies sell surveillance equipment to the security agency of Syria or Iran or, in past times, Qadhafi, there can be no doubt it will be used to violate rights.

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… A range of resources emerged in recent years to help companies work through these issues. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which were adopted in June, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises both advise companies on how to meet responsibilities and carry out due diligence. And the Global Network Initiative, which is represented here tonight, is a growing forum where companies can work through challenges with other industry partners, as well as academics, investors, and activists.

And of course, companies can always learn from users. The Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference in October brought together companies, activists, and experts to discuss real life problems and identify solutions. And some participants issued what they called the Silicon Valley Standard for stakeholders to aspire to.

Working through these difficult questions by corporate executives and board members should help shape your practices. Part of the job of responsible corporate management in the 21st century is doing human rights due diligence on new markets, instituting internal review procedures, identifying principles by which decisions are to be made in tough situations, because we cannot let the short-term gains that all of us think are legitimate and worth seeking jeopardize the openness of the internet and human rights of individuals who use it without it coming back to haunt us all in the future. Because a free and open internet is important not just to technology companies but to all companies. Whether it's run with a single mobile phone or an extensive corporate network, it's hard to find any business today that doesn't depend in some way on the internet and doesn't suffer when networks are constrained.

But even as companies must step up, governments must resist the urge to clamp down, and that is the second challenge we face. If we're not careful, governments could upend the current internet governance framework in a quest to increase their own control. Some governments use internet governance issues as a cover for pushing an agenda that would justify restricting human rights online. We must be wary of such agendas and united in the U.S. shared conviction that human rights apply online.

So right now, in various international forums, some countries are working to change how the internet is governed. They want to replace the current multi-stakeholder approach, which includes governments, the private sector, and citizens, and supports the free flow of information, in a single global network. In its place, they aim to impose a system cemented in a global code that expands control over internet resources, institutions, and content, and centralizes that control in the hands of governments.

Internet Freedom in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): On February 15, 2011, Secretary Clinton delivered a speech on internet freedom, following up on a speech she delivered on the subject in 2010. see this world legal encyclopedia in relation with the year 2010 at 303-5. In her February 2011 speech, available at (internet link) state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/02/156619.htm, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to supporting internet freedom as a platform for exercising the universal freedoms of expression, assembly, and association. She said:

The internet has become the public space of the 21st century—the world's town square, classroom, marketplace, coffeehouse, and nightclub. … To maintain an internet that delivers the greatest possible benefits to the world, we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what rules exist and should not exist and why, what behaviors should be encouraged or discouraged and how.

Developments

She proceeded to discuss several major challenges of ensuring a free and open internet: first, achieving both liberty and security; second, protecting both transparency and confidentiality; and third, protecting free expression while fostering tolerance and civility. Secretary Clinton also reviewed U.S initiatives to promote internet freedom and counter internet repression.

On June 3, 2011, Anna Mansfield, U.S. Deputy Legal Adviser, delivered a statement on behalf of the U.S. delegation to the 17th Session of the Human Rights Council regarding the recent report of the special rapporteur on freedom of expression, which focused on internet freedom. Ms. Mansfield's statement, excerpted below, is available at (internet link) geneva.usmission.gov/2011/06/03/u-s-statement-internet-access-and-violence-against-women/.

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The United States thanks Special Rapporteur La Rue for his report. We strongly support his affirmation of the freedom of opinion and expression as underpinning and protecting other human rights. We appreciate his timely focus on access to electronic communications and freedom of expression on the Internet. The dramatic events unfolding in North Africa, the Middle East and beyond highlight the importance of new communications tools for providing new avenues to exercise the freedom of expression, and allowing people everywhere to articulate their democratic aspirations.

As the report correctly states, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were drafted with foresight to include technological developments through which individuals can exercise their right to freedom of expression. This includes the freedom “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” providing the same strong protections for online speech as they do for offline speech.

We agree that “the right to freedom of expression includes expression of views and opinions that offend, shock or disturb,” and that legitimate restrictions on expression allowed under international human rights law are “few, exceptional and limited.” The United States does not believe that there should be limitations on hate speech generally, unless it constitutes incitement to imminent violence. We therefore support the concept that “there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet.”

We strongly condemn the brutal methods used by some governments to silence dissent, and we are concerned by the report that in 2010, 109 bloggers were in prison on charges related to the content of their expression. We urge Member States to remove domestic legal provisions that improperly criminalize or otherwise improperly limit the freedom of expression.

States must ensure that Internet access is available, even during times of political unrest. It is unacceptable for a government to suspend user accounts on social networking sites, or to cut off access entirely, for engaging in non-violent political speech. The United States encourages the Special Rapporteur to further examine the role of states in disabling national or regional Internet access for political reasons.

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We are also concerned with the Special Rapporteur's report of increasing denial of service attacks on civil society. We urge Member States to adopt measures to prevent such acts, and to hold those responsible to account.

The United States suggests that the Special Rapporteur expand his inquiry on the influence of governments over communications companies. We would be interested in a study of whether governments are improperly requiring corporations to censor content and to participate in surveillance and monitoring of citizens, as a condition for operating a business in the country.

Internet Freedom in 2011

United States views on international law (based on the document “Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law”): In effect, the governments pushing this agenda want to create national barriers in cyberspace. This approach would be disastrous for internet freedom. More government control will further constrict what people in repressive environments can do online. It would also be disastrous for the internet as a whole, because it would reduce the dynamism of the internet for everyone. Fragmenting the global internet by erecting barriers around national internets would change the landscape of cyberspace. In this scenario, the internet would contain people in a series of digital bubbles, rather than connecting them in a global network. Breaking the internet into pieces would give you echo chambers rather than an innovative global marketplace of ideas.

The United States wants the internet to remain a space where economic, political, and social exchanges flourish. To do that, we need to protect people who exercise their rights online, and we also need to protect the internet itself from plans that would undermine its fundamental characteristics.

Now, those who push these plans often do so in the name of security. And let me be clear: The challenge of maintaining security and of combating cyber crime, such as the theft of intellectual property, are real—a point I underscore whenever I discuss these issues. There are predators, terrorists, traffickers on the internet, malign actors plotting cyber attacks, and they all need to be stopped. We can do that by working together without compromising the global network, its dynamism, or the U.S. principles.

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…[T]he United States supports the public-private collaboration that now exists to manage the technical evolution of the internet in real time. We support the principles of multi-stakeholder internet governance developed by more than 30 nations in the OECD earlier this year. A multistakeholder system brings together the best of governments, the private sector, and civil society, and most importantly, it works. It has kept the internet up and running for years all over the world. So to use an American phrase, the U.S. position is, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it.” And there's no good reason to replace an effective system with an oppressive one.

The third and final challenge is that all of us—governments, private sector, civil society—must do more to build a truly global coalition to preserve an open internet, and that's where all of you here today come in. Because internet freedom cannot be defended by one country or one region alone. Building this global coalition is hard, partly because, for people in many countries, the potential of the internet is still unrealized. While it's easy for us in the United States or in the Netherlands to imagine what we would lose if the internet became less free, it is harder for those who have yet to see the benefits of the internet in their day-to-day lives. So we have to work harder to make the case that an open internet is and will be in everyone's best interests. And we have to keep that in mind as we work to build this global coalition and make the case to leaders of those countries where the next generation of internet users live. These leaders have an opportunity today to help ensure that the full benefits are available to their people tomorrow, and in so doing, they will help us ensure an open internet for everyone.

Developments

So the United States will be making the case for an open internet in the U.S. work worldwide, and we welcome other countries to join us. …[L]et's lay the groundwork now for these partnerships that will support an open internet in the future. And in that spirit I want to call attention to two important items on your agenda for tomorrow.

The first will be to build support for a new cross-regional group that will work together in exactly the way that I've just discussed—based on shared principles, providing a platform for governments to engage creatively and energetically with the private sector, civil society, and other governments. Several countries have already signaled their intention to join, I hope others here will do the same, and going forward, others will endorse the declaration that the U.S. Dutch hosts have prepared. It's excellent work, Uri, and we thank you for your leadership.

The second item I want to highlight is a practical effort to do more to support cyber activists and bloggers who are threatened by their repressive governments. The Committee to Protect Journalists recently reported that of all the writers, editors, and photojournalists now imprisoned around the world, nearly half are online journalists. The threat is very real. Now several of us already provide support, including financial support, to activists and bloggers, and I was pleased that the EU recently announced new funding for that purpose. And I know that other governments, including the Netherlands, are also looking for ways to help out.

Details

Our government will continue to work very hard to get around every barrier that repressive governments put up. Because governments that have erected barriers will eventually find themselves boxed in, and they will face a dictator's dilemma. They will have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price for keeping them standing by resorting to greater oppression, and to escalating the opportunity cost of missing out on the ideas that have been blocked and the people who have been disappeared.

Internet Freedom and Privacy in 2013

United States views on international law [1] in relation to Internet Freedom and Privacy: At the clustered interactive dialogue on freedom of expression and violence against women, held at the 23rd session of the HRC on June 3, 2013, the United States delegation delivered a statement commenting on a report of the special rapporteur on the relationship between the right to freedom of expression and privacy rights. That portion of the statement appears below and focuses on the limits of online privacy. The portion of the U.S. statement addressing violence against women appears in Section B.2.b., above. The statement in its entirety is available at (link resource) geneva.usmission.gov/2013/06/03/clustered-interactive-dialogue-on-freedom-ofexpression-and-violence-against-women/.

Some Aspects of Internet Freedom and Privacy

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights state that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy. The central idea of Internet freedom is that human rights apply with the same force online as offline. This is true for privacy rights, which enable people to make the most of modern communication technologies.

Developments

But some governments see modern communications technologies as threatening, and have sought to use surveillance to attempt to control discourse and eliminate dissent. If governments are conducting surveillance of private communications for illegitimate purposes— for instance, to persecute dissidents—or if governments are conducting arbitrary surveillance or surveillance outside the rule of law, then that surveillance may constitute an arbitrary interference with privacy or an improper restriction on the rights to freedom of expression, association or assembly.

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In contrast, to protect their citizens, governments must sometimes investigate criminal activity by lawfully obtaining online communications. Like other rights-respecting governments, the United States conducts surveillance for lawful purposes, pursuant to laws that are transparent, adopted pursuant to democratic processes, and subject to oversight by all three branches of government. In fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its recent amendments, which the report mischaracterizes as providing a “blanket exception to the requirement for judicial authorization,” are expressly designed to bring certain privacy-impacting activities under judicial and congressional supervision. Such surveillance, used appropriately, supports human rights.

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While the United States cannot endorse all of the conclusions of the report, including those related to the nature of privacy rights and the test for permissible infringements on privacy, we commend the Special Rapporteur for taking up this difficult issue, and we encourage other States, businesses, and civil society groups to take seriously the human rights concerns raised by the report.

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On June 10, 2013, at the 23rd session of the HRC, a statement on freedom of expression on the internet was read by Tunisia, on behalf of 70 countries, including the United States. Excerpts from the statement appear below; the full text is available at (link resource) geneva.usmission.gov/2013/06/10/internet-freedom-5/.

Internet Freedom and Privacy in 2013 (Continuation)

United States views on international law [1] in relation to Internet Freedom and Privacy: The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action asserted that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. This was also at the core of the resolution 20/8″The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet” adopted by consensus in this Council a year ago. Our conviction that freedom of expression and access to information promotes development in all spheres of society stands firm. With the remarkable spread, use and potential of modern communication technologies, the importance of this link cannot be overestimated. Internet, social media, and mobile phone technology have played, and should continue to play, a crucial role as instruments for participation, transparency and engagement in socio-economic, cultural and political development.

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We also reiterate what was stated in the important resolution 20/8; that the same rights that people have offline such as freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information must also be protected online.

Development

To enjoy and ensure the potential that the internet offers, we believe that there should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information on the Internet and we repeat our call on all states to ensure strong protection of freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights online in accordance with international human rights law.

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As the Internet continues to spread and its impact grows, the handling of security concerns are moving into the realm of the Internet as well. However, the state's efforts to manage security concerns may pose a challenge when it relates to the Internet.

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It is of paramount importance to recall that the state has an obligation to respect, protect and promote individuals' human rights and fundamental freedoms. This applies, as laid out before, both in the physical world as well as on the Internet. We therefore wish to emphasize that when addressing any security concerns on the Internet, this must be done in a manner consistent with states' obligations under international human rights law and full respect for human rights must be maintained.

Internet Freedom

In relation to the international law practice and Internet Freedom in this world legal Encyclopedia, please see the following section:

International Criminal Law

About this subject:

International, Hybrid, and Other Tribunals

Resources

See Also

  • International Human Rights
  • Freedom Of Expression
  • Internet Freedom

Resources

Notes

  1. Internet Freedom and Privacy in the Digest of United States Practice in International Law

Resources

Notes

  1. Internet Freedom and Privacy in the Digest of United States Practice in International Law

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