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Report on the role of digital access providers

Issued by

Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression


30 March 2017


Issued by Special Procedures


Freedom of opinion and expression, Special Procedures

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Threats to digital expression and Internet freedom are more pronounced than ever. Internet shutdowns have emerged as a popular means of information control. Government surveillance continues to intensify worldwide, jeopardizing the privacy and security of millions. Net neutrality - the long-held premise that all Internet data should be treated equally and without undue interference - has come under attack. In this increasingly hostile environment, what are the human rights responsibilities of the Information, Communications and Technology sector - particularly those actors that facilitate the provision of telecommunications and Internet access, and serve as gatekeepers of the digital infrastructure?

To address this question, the Special Rapporteur first examines the role of States in undermining freedom of expression online, and what their obligation to protect this fundamental right entails. The Special Rapporteur subsequently evaluates the role of digital access providers - not just telecommunications companies and Internet service providers, which have become synonymous with digital access, but also non-consumer facing actors like network equipment vendors, content delivery networks, and Internet exchange points. Drawing on the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and best practices in the field, the Special Rapporteur proposes concrete steps that digital access providers should take to safeguard the freedom of expression of Internet users worldwide.