The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression has 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.
In presenting his annual report to the UN General Assembly (October 23), Frank La Rue noted that "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,”
He cited the increase in protest movements around the world which are advocating for justice, accountability by the powerful and respect for human rights. “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.”
La Rue, a national of Guatemala, noted that the use of the Internet as a catalyst for change has generated fear among those seeking to maintain the status quo. In his view, however, the “fear of change cannot justify monitoring, censoring, or blocking access to the Internet”.
In his report, La Rue outlined four types of exceptions for restricting freedom of expression on the internet which states are required to prohibit and criminalize under national: “child pornography, incitement to genocide and advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination and violence.”
His report outlines the safeguards which must be in place to prevent censorship “under the guise of seemingly legitimate goals”.
La Rue also underscored the importance of digital literacy and training in information technology especially in a world where three quarters of the world’s population still lacks access to the Internet.
“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.”
La Rue has served as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression since 2008. He reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.