Unesco NL recommendations on human rights and Internet

By EDRi · March 10, 2005

The Netherlands National Commission for Unesco has published Recommendations on human rights and Internet, following a conference held on 4 and 5 February 2005. The recommendation focusses on privacy, the right of freedom of expression and the right to communicate, including access to the vast cultural, educational and scientific heritage of mankind.

On privacy, the recommendation calls on States to “Acknowledge that privacy is an indispensable prerequisite to the right of freedom of expression and the right to communicate. Online as well as off-line, readers, listeners and viewers have a right to the same high level of privacy and anonymity. If online access to information is tracked and tied to detailed personal profiles, self-censorship is imminent and – more important still – the public debate and the rule of law are eroded.”

The participants to the conference are also stressing that internet service providers “should not act as judges on the legitimacy of expressions.” Furthermore they remark that in discussions on the Internet, “harmful and illegal content are often named side by side, yet harmful content is not illegal. Actions to ban harmful content can have a stifling effect on the freedom of the public debate. There should be no mandatory filtering or blocking of Internet access.”

The Recommendations will be brought forward to the Council of Europe, in its current process to formulate a new declaration on human rights and the rule of law in the information society. In October 2004 the Council decided to create a Multidisciplinary Ad-hoc Committee of Experts on the Information Society (CAHSI). This group debated on 3 and 4 February 2005 about a first draft text and will have a second meeting on 6 and 7 April 2005. The result of this meeting will be a draft political statement that will be used as a contribution from the Committee of Ministers in a Council of Europe Summit in May 2005, and presented to the WSIS in Tunis in November 2005.

The first draft, dating from 15 December 2004, outlines 13 general principles, and gives a very short list of opportunities and very long list of threats posed by the Information Society. According to the minutes, during the meeting on 3 and 4 February some details were changed, such as the order of the principles and renaming ‘threats’ into ‘challenges’. The bullet points with recommendations for ‘businesses’ and ‘civil society’ remained empty. In fact, in CAHSI only governments and transnational institutions such as the European Commission and different Council of Europe committees have a right to vote. Civil Society is allowed to send 4 observers; on behalf of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues; the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights; the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International.

The Unesco recommendations may hopefully contribute to a stronger wording of essential digital rights, including a call on governments to protect and actively promote the availability of works in the public domain. The CAHSI draft could also benefit from a sharp distinction between harmful and illegal content.

Unesco NL Recommendations on human rights and Internet (07.03.2005)

Council of Europe archive of CAHSI terms of reference and meeting reports