July 1, 2014 | By Jillian York

UN Human Rights Council Reaffirms Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Online

EFF is pleased by the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) reaffirming the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet.” The resolution — sponsored by Brazil, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, Sweden, and the United States—was adopted by consensus at the twenty-sixth session of the UNHRC and supported by a total of 82 member states. Last month, EFF joined 62 civil society groups in calling on the UN to uphold fundamental rights online.

As we’ve affirmed in the 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, any mass surveillance, including extra-territorially, is inherently disproportionate and a violation of human rights. The resolution addresses this by calling on States to “address security concerns on the Internet in accordance with their international human rights obligations to ensure protection of freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy and other human rights online.”

The resolution also:

  • Notes the importance of “building confidence and trust in the Internet, not least with regard to freedom of expression, privacy, and other human rights” so as to realize the potential of the Internet as an enabler for development and innovation;

  • Affirms that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online,” particularly freedom of expression in accordance with Articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and;

  • Calls upon States to consider formulating through transparent and multi-stakeholder processes, the adoption of public policies that affirm the global, open and interoperable nature of the Internet and that have “the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at [its] core.”

As Article 19 notes, however, the adoption of this resolution “was not without controversy.” Despite the inclusion of an oral amendment highlighting the “importance of combating the advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence on the Internet, including by promoting tolerance or dialogue,” China (supported by Saudi Arabia, Russia, Vietnam, and other censorious states) attempted to further amend the text to include a warning of the dangers the Internet poses for encouraging terrorism, extremism, racism, and religious intolerance. The amendment—which would have supplanted existing, agreed-upon UN language—was voted down.

This resolution follows years of great work from Frank LaRue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, in ensuring that our existing rights are protected online. We’re happy to see the UNHRC taking human rights online seriously and urge States to adhere to their international obligations to protect speech, privacy, and the right to assemble.


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