The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has adopted two recommendations and two declarations that call on states to uphold free speech online, including when it is threatened by disruptions or interferences to the Internet.
In a Recommendation on the protection and promotion of the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet the Committee laid out a framework of co-operation for member states with a view to preserve a global, stable and open Internet as a means of safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information.
The Committee of Ministers urged states to develop policies, in conjunction with other stakeholders, to prevent and respond to harm to the Internet.
While not getting involved in day-to-day operational issues, states should develop emergency plans, share information and assist each other in preventing and managing major cross border incidents affecting the Internet. They should also strive to ensure that critical Internet resources are managed with respect for international human rights law.
In a Declaration, the Committee of Ministers adopted 10 Internet governance principles that should be upheld by Council of Europe member states when developing national and international policies related to the Internet: protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law; multistakeholder governance; responsibility of states; empowerment of Internet users; universality; integrity; decentralised management; open standards, interoperability and end-to-end nature; open network; and cultural and linguistic diversity.
The Committee of Ministers also recommended that states adopt a new broad notion of media and acknowledge that social networks, online games or online whistleblower sites are entitled to media freedom rights and responsibilities established under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Recommendation offers a set of criteria to be used when providing a graduated and differentiated policy response to different actors according to their role in the production and dissemination of information or content and in the operation of applications designed to facilitate mass communication, including platforms or applications for content-based interactive experiences.
As a form of interference, regulation should be a measure of last resort; preference should be given to self-regulation and to new media embracing voluntarily journalistic standards. Attention has to be paid to situations of strong media concentration with a view to guaranteeing a satisfactory level of pluralism, diversity of content and consumer choice.
In a Declaration on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association with regard to domain names and name strings, the Committee of Ministers expressed its concern about measures proposed in some states to prohibit the use of certain words in domain names and name strings. The Committee stated that the right to freedom of expression is fully applicable to domain names and strings. This is particularly important in view of the extension of the domain name space to include generic names in 2012.
The Council of Europe will present these documents for discussion with other Internet stakeholders at the upcoming Internet Governance Forum (Nairobi, 27-30 September).