26 October 2011

New UN report on Internet regulation around the world

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The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, released a report to the UN General Assembly this month highlighting trends in Internet use and censorship and guiding governments in Internet regulation and distribution policies.

Described as a "wake up call" by ARTICLE 19, the document makes clear that under international law, only child pornography, incitement to violence or genocide and hate speech can be censored on the Internet.

Among numerous other principles, the report states that all governments must promote universal access to the Internet. It also says that individuals who provide technical services such as hosting information should not be held liable for content generated by others. Restricting parts of the Internet "can never be justified, including on public order or national security grounds," says the Special Rapporteur.

One concern La Rue noted was the wide interpretation of terrorist threats that states may use to justify censorship. He maintains that the crime of incitement to terrorism must be based on the actual intent to incite others to terrorism and must be accompanied by the actual risk an offence will be committed as a result.

Noting that three quarters of the world's population lack Internet access, La Rue's report encourages governments to make the Internet more affordable and to ensure free public access. "The Internet is not only a crucial tool for expression but also for a country's development by educating and empowering people through access to previously unattainable information and knowledge," he explained in a speech to the UN on 21 October. Read the full report here.

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