63 civil society groups call on UN to protect free expression online

ARTICLE 19, speaking on behalf of 63 civil society groups, has urged the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to strengthen protections for freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights online.

Two years ago, the HRC pronounced in a landmark consensus resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression”. States at the UN are now considering a follow-up to this resolution.

The oral statement recalls that the Internet is crucial for ensuring transparency and public participation, in particular for enhancing accountability and effectiveness of development outcomes. The statement outlines that States must promote and facilitate universal, equitable, affordable and high-quality Internet access on the basis of human rights, the rule of law, and net-neutrality - even during times of unrest.

The organisations jointly stressed that much more is needed from the HRC to protect dissent online. Recent website blocking in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela, and Thailand, demonstrates that the Internet is on the front line in the contest for civic space and freedom of expression, and requires urgent protection.

One year on from the Snowden revelations, the HRC is called on to recognise that trust in the Internet is conditional on respect for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, regardless of users’ nationality or location. It is therefore paramount that the HRC assert that any mass surveillance, including extra-territorially, is inherently disproportionate and a violation of human rights.

The oral statement points to the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles” for addressing the challenges to protecting freedom of expression and privacy online. Together with the forthcoming report of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and UN General Assembly Resolution 68/167, they provide useful guidance for the HRC to protect of the right to privacy in line with international standards. States are urged to consider these principles ahead of the HRC panel discussion scheduled for the 27th Session in September 2014.