Civil Society Groups Call for Protection of Free Expression Online

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Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the globe have called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to strengthen protections for freedom of expression, the right to privacy, and other human rights online.

The call was made at the 26th session of the UNHRC on Internet and Human Rights in June 2014.

The group which is made up of 63 civil society organisations from all over the world made an oral statement during the session.  The group which was convened and led by Article19 presented the statement at the 26th session through Article19 Legal Officer,  Andrew Smith.

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 group jointly stressed that much more is needed from the UNHRC to protect dissent online adding that 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.

The oral statement also points to the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles” for addressing the challenges to protecting freedom of expression and privacy online.

According to the statement, “the blocking of communications, including of social media, in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Venezuela is a violation of freedom of expression, association and assembly and must be condemned. Dissent online must be protected. We deplore the detention of Sombat Boonngamanong in Thailand, who faces up to 14 years imprisonment for urging peaceful resistance to the recent military coup via social media in the form of a three-finger salute.”

The statement concluded by stating: “The targeted interception and collection of personal data must be conducted in accordance with International Human Rights Law as set out in the ‘Necessary and Proportionate Principles’. Critical and intermediate infrastructure must not be tampered with, nor should any system, protocol or standard be weakened to facilitate interception or decryption of data.”

For the full version of the statement, visit: www.article19.org/data/files/annual_reports_and_accounts/Oral_Statement.pdf