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Freedom of Expression Online

The 2003 WSIS Geneva Declaration on Principles reaffirms “as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.”

The “Free Expression Online” Dynamic Coalition (FOEonline) appreciates this opportunity to contribute to the debate on Internet governance policy matters. FOEonline would like to emphasize that freedom of expression is a widely recognized basic human right that is fundamental to human growth and development.

A broadly recognized right to freedom of expression and communication is guaranteed in many of the major international treaties dealing with civil liberties. Many of these treaties are legally binding on countries and many recognize the need for freedom of expression “in any medium”, foreshadowing the battles of the digital environment. Freedom of expression rights should not be devalued on the Internet and individuals must retain their existing rights to communicate in the new online environment.

Protecting freedom of expression on the Internet in crucial because free expression is:

– the foundation of democracy;
– essential to the individual pursuit of happiness;
– a tool that provides protection for other foundational human rights and basic freedoms;
– and it promotes education and enables human development.

Many of the world’s citizens live in countries that are parties to international treaties that guarantee freedom of expression, making it one of the most basic and universally accepted human rights. Among the agreements that protect freedom of expression and communication rights include:

• 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19)
• 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19)
• 1981 African Charter on People’s and Human Rights (Article 9)
• 1950 European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Article 10)
• Inter-American Bill of Rights:
1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Article 4)
1978 American Convention on Human Rights (Article 13)

IGF 2007 in Rio de Janeiro

Given the foregoing, FOEonline requests that the IGF community consider the following points in its planning for the 2007 IGF meeting in Rio de Janeiro:

• Freedom of expression and communication rights should have a prominent place in the agenda of the 2007 IGF meeting since they are implicated by all of the 4 main IGF themes, and in particular is integral to the “Openness” main theme.

• “Best practices” in Rio should include consideration of free expression, since it is one of the most important values for development in an information/communication age.

• Civil liberties, such as freedom of expression online or privacy – but not limited to these – should be a cross-cutting theme that all workshops and main sessions should take into consideration in the light of their respective topic.

• The implications of technical developments or standards on civil liberties should be taken into account at every stage. A multi-stakeholder and a cross-dimensional approach could be one of the added values of the IGF.

• The main theme of “Openness” should be retained for the Rio meeting and even strengthened, given its paramount role in protecting the rights of Internet users to communicate freely and protect other fundamental rights. Promoting an open Internet infrastructure is one of the best ways of protecting freedom of expression and the free flow of information in cyberspace.

About FOEonline

The ‘Free Expression Online’- Coalition (FOEonline) was established as a follow-up to the first Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Greece in November 2006. It aims to further freedom of expression and freedom of the media on the Internet. FOEonline will provide an open platform to exchange information, advance initiatives in the field of Internet governance and freedom of expression and serve as an informal community to organize meetings and other initiatives, thus feeding into the IGF process for 2007 in Brazil and beyond.

FOEonline Coalition partners include the following institutions and organizations or representatives thereof:

• Amnesty International (ai) UK
• Article 19
• communica-ch: Swiss platform for the information society
• Council of Europe
• The Danish Institute for Human Rights
• Institute of International Law and International Relations, University of Graz
• Internet Governance Project (IGP)
• IP Justice
• Net Dialogue
• The Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media
• Reporters sans frontières
• The World Press Freedom Committee

FOEonline Dynamic Coalition and its mailing list are open to all interested parties.

Statements of the FOEonline Coalition or members thereof are always representing personal views and do not necessarily reflect the position of one or more institutions or the entirety of the coalition unless explicitly stated.


Mailing list:

Christian Möller, Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Robin Gross, IP Justice