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Internet: “Free flow of information and access for all” – UN expert

NEW YORK (21 October 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, urged Governments to guarantee the free flow of information on the Internet, and to ensure that the Internet is made widely available, accessible and affordable to all.

“Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies and tactics which are often hidden from the public to censor online content and to monitor and identify individuals who disseminate critical or sensitive information, which frequently lead to arbitrary arrests and detention,” said La Rue, presenting his annual report to the UN General Assembly.

“In recent months, we have seen a growing movement of people around the world who are advocating for change – for justice, equality, accountability of the powerful and better respect for human rights,” noted La Rue, “and the Internet has often played a key role in such movements by enabling people to connect and exchange information instantly and by creating a sense of solidarity.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that the potential of the Internet as a catalyst for change has also generated fear among those who prefer to maintain the status quo. However, in his view, such fear of change cannot justify monitoring, censoring, or blocking access to the Internet.

In his report,* La Rue explores how the framework of international human rights law remains relevant in determining what kinds of information can be restricted on the Internet and how such restrictions should be formulated and implemented.

“I outline four types of ‘exceptional’ expression which States are required to prohibit and criminalize under international law, such as child pornography and incitement to genocide, and recommend that States refrain from criminalizing all other forms of expression,” said La Rue. His report also outlines the safeguards which must be in place to prevent censorship of content under the guise of seemingly legitimate goals.

La Rue also underscored the importance of digital literacy and training in information and communications skills to enable individuals to access online content in an effective and meaningful way.

“This is particularly important, because 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.”

“It is therefore essential that States renew their efforts to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all,” stressed La Rue, who noted that three-quarters - or the majority of the world’s population - still lack access to the Internet.

Frank La Rue (Guatemala) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

(*) Check the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Opinion/A.66.290.pdf

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
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