What was incomprehensible only 20 years ago is commonplace today.
In the blink of any eye, messages, pictures, movies, everything that can be digitalized, can be sent from one corner of the earth to another. People have come to depend on the Internet and new media services to communicate with the world, from the person next door to a relative several time zones away. People also rely on the Internet to get their news, sports, entertainment and almost everything else that comprises daily life – often without thinking about how the system operates. The Internet is just ‘there,’ and always will be.
But across the world, including the 56 nations that comprise the participating States of the OSCE, governments have or are seriously pondering steps that would limit or even block access to the Internet. These threats are real and pose a danger to a fundamental human right – the right to impart and receive information, regardless of frontiers. Permanent Council Decision No.633 of 2004 expressly commits the OSCE’s participating States to “take action to ensure that the Internet remains an open and public forum for freedom of opinion and expression…”
These threats come in many forms. Governments in many states have chosen to impose their views of what is proper and, as a result, have imposed mandatory content-filtering software to effectively block access to websites they deem inappropriate. This is often done in an arbitrary and capricious fashion, and the legal basis upon which these decisions rest stem from poorly drafted laws which use ill- or hard-to-define terms, including aid and assistance to terrorist causes, and offences against public morality.
The reasons given for blocking vary but the result is the same: The public’s right to know, to inform and be informed, is restricted. This is a fundamental violation of international and OSCE standards on free expression.
Recognizing the need to quantify the level and nature of restrictions limiting the public’s right to use the Internet, the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media recently completed a study of Internet-related laws and regulations spanning the OSCE region.
The results show that much needs to be done to ensure the Internet remains an open and public forum for the freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by OSCE commitments, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.