UN Report on Freedom of Expression Bashes G8, ACTA, Hadopi.

Paris, June 3rd 2011 – A report on Internet policy by the UN Special Rapporteur on the protection of freedom of opinion and expression will be presented today. The report's guidelines aimed at protecting fundamental freedoms clash radically with the course set by governments of the G8. This report will be essential to help citizens hold their governments accountable for policies undermining online freedoms.

The Report1 of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, brilliantly draws the lines governments should not cross in order to protect citizens' fundamental rights and democracy.

Alarmingly, most of the governments harmful policies regarding the Internet adopted lately2 are in clear contradiction with the report's conclusions:

  • The report states that governments should not make Internet intermediaries liable for their users' activities3. Such condemnation of private censorship blatantly conflicts with he G8's conclusions, which called for internet actors to implement measures to “prevent future copyright infringements”.
  • These conclusions regarding the role of intermediaries are also in total contradiction with the new EU Copyright Policy and the ACTA agreement – soon to be signed and put to vote before the European Parliament. Through the imposition of broad new criminal sanctions, ACTA would force Internet companies to police their networks and their services' users4.
  • Among other recommendations, the report requests that the French government withdraw its infamous Hadopi “three strikes” legislation5 and that the UK governments withdraw the Digital Economy Act.
  • The report condemns censorship of content as a dangerous and inefficient measure6. It opposes the kind of administrative censorship currently being implemented in France, or proposed at the EU level.

“The UN report on Freedom of Expression online is a blow to the G8 governments, the European Commissioner Michel Barnier, and the governments involved in negotiating the ACTA agreement, as they all plan to turn Internet companies into a private copyright police. The UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue affirms that Freedom of Expression is more important than copyright, and should be protected at all cost, in authoritarian regimes as well as in democracies. Citizens of the world should be inspired by this report and hold their governments accountable for their policies that undermine the Internet and our freedoms.” concludes Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for citizen organization La Quadrature du Net.

  • 1. See the report at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/reports/report-of-the-special-rapporteur-on-the-promotion-and-protection-of-the-righ.pdf
  • 2. Governmental attempts to control the Internet are multiplying in all geographical areas: the US Governments' reaction to WikiLeaks and takedowns of domain names in the name of copyright; the Egyptian black-out of the Net; censorship of web content happening all over Europe; the talks of creating a “Great European firewall”, the ACTA agreement turning Internet service providers into a private copyright police, etc.
  • 3. 40. [...] Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.
    42. [...] Furthermore, intermediaries, as private entities, are not best placed to make the determination of whether a particular content is illegal, which requires careful balancing of competing interests and consideration of defences.
    47. [...] To avoid infringing the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy of Internet users, the Special Rapporteur recommends intermediaries to: only implement restrictions to these rights after judicial intervention; be transparent to the user involved about measures taken, and where applicable to the wider public; provide, if possible, forewarning to users before the implementation of restrictive measures; and minimize the impact of restrictions strictly to the content involved. Finally, there must be effective remedies for affected users, including the possibility of appeal through the procedures provided by the intermediary and by a competent judicial authority.
  • 4. The Special Rapporteur says that he “remains watchful about the treaty’s eventual implications for intermediary liability and the right to freedom of expression”.
  • 5. 79. [...] the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.
  • 6. 70. The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned by increasingly sophisticated blocking or filtering mechanisms used by States for censorship. The lack of transparency surrounding these measures also makes it difficult to ascertain whether blocking or filtering is really necessary for the purported aims put forward by States. As such, the Special Rapporteur calls upon States that currently block websites to provide lists of blocked websites and full details regarding the necessity and justification for blocking each individual website. An explanation should also be provided on the affected websites as to why they have been blocked. Any determination on what content should be blocked must be undertaken by a competent judicial authority or a body which is independent of any political, commercial, or other unwarranted influences.