Policy:Freedom of Expression and Access to Information

From sanctions

The fundamental human rights of freedom of expression and access to information are recognized in both international and many national laws. Full disconnection of Internet access is a clear violation of this fundamental human right. It is our position that sanctions which aim to disconnect any general civilian population from the Internet is thus a violation of their human rights, illegal under international law, and counterproductive in any event: we hold a shared conviction that a better-informed populace is a populace which will less support offensive actions taken in its name.

However, this principle does not stand alone in judging the applicability of sanctions:

Sanctions which target corporations or government agencies do not violate human rights law, since human rights law does not protect corporate persons nor governments. Such entities must be disciplined through measures which are appropriate to their form.

The self-defensive disconnection of entities which harm the function of the network (construed narrowly) or society (construed broadly), whether individual, corporate, bot, or other, has historically been held to be reasonable and prudent in the operation of the Internet and other networks.

United Nations

Article 19, part 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:

"Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

Council of Europe

Article 10, section 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers."

African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa:

"The right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information are

fundamental rights protected under international human rights law, including the African Charter. The respect, protection and fulfilment of these rights are crucial and indispensable for the free development of the human person, the creation and nurturing of democratic societies, and for the exercise of other rights. The exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information shall be protected from interference both online and offline. States shall interpret and implement the protection of freedom of expression and access to information in this Declaration and other relevant international standards, to include the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information in their digital dimensions. States may only limit the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and the right of access to information, if the limitation is:

  • prescribed by law;
  • serves a legitimate aim; and
  • a necessary and proportionate means to achieve the stated aim in a democratic society, that is compatible with the African Charter and international human rights law."

Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa:

"Access to information empowers the electorate to be well- informed about political processes with due regard to their best inter- ests: to elect political office holders; to participate in decision-making processes on the implementation of laws and policies; and to hold public officials accountable for their acts or omissions in the execu- tion of their duties. Thus, access to information is a foundational requirement of the practice of democratic governance. It has been rightly stated that: ‘No democratic government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that people should have information about the functioning of government.’ It is the responsibility of State Parties to create an atmosphere that fosters access to information and to ensure ‘adequate disclosure and dissemination of information’ in a manner that offers ‘the necessary facilities and eliminates existing obstacles to its attainment.’"

Further, the principles of their 2013 Model Law on Access to Information for Africa:

"The right to information is hereby guaranteed in accordance with the following principles:

(a) Every person has the right to access information of public bod- ies and relevant private bodies expeditiously and inexpensively.

(b) Every person has the right to access information of private bod- ies that may assist in the exercise or protection of any right expeditiously and inexpensively."

Organization of American States

The Inter-American Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression:

"1. Freedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals. Additionally, it is an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society.

2. Every person has the right to seek, receive and impart information and opinions freely under terms set forth in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. All people should be afforded equal opportunities to receive, seek and impart information by any means of communication without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition. 3. Every person has the right to access to information about himself or herself or his/her assets expeditiously and not onerously, whether it be contained in databases or public or private registries, and if necessary to update it, correct it and/or amend it.

4. Access to information held by the state is a fundamental right of every individual. States have the obligation to guarantee the full exercise of this right. This principle allows only exceptional limitations that must be previously established by law in case of a real and imminent danger that threatens national security in democratic societies."

European Union

European Union Guidelines on Freedom of Expression Online and Offline:

"The right to freedom of expression includes freedom to seek and receive information. It is a key component of democratic governance as the promotion of participatory decision-making processes is unattainable without adequate access to information. The Internet and digital technologies have expanded the possibilities of individuals and media to exercise the right to freedom of expression and freely access online information. Any restriction that prevents the flow of information offline or online must be in line with permissible limitations as set out in international human rights law. Any such restrictions, must pass the following three-part, cumulative test:

  • They must be provided for by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone (principle of legal certainty, predictability and transparency).
  • They must pursue one of the purposes set out in article 19.3 ICCPR, i.e. to protect the rights or reputations of others; to protect national security, public order or public health or morals (principle of legitimacy).
  • They must be proven necessary and as the least restrictive means required and commensurate with the purported aim (principles of necessity and proportionality)."