Declaration by the Committee of Ministers on Internet governance principles

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 21 September 2011
at the 1121st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

1. The Internet is an aggregate of a vast range of ideas, technologies, resources and policies developed on the assertion of freedom and through collective endeavours in the common interest. States, the private sector, civil society and individuals have all contributed to build the dynamic, inclusive and successful Internet that we know today. The Internet provides a space of freedom, facilitating the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights, participatory and democratic processes, and social and commercial activities.

2. The above has inspired a shared vision of Internet governance which was put on record in the Declaration of Principles enunciated in the Geneva phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in December 2003. The Tunis Agenda, adopted at the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society in November 2005, defined Internet governance as the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.

3. The Internet governance discussions taking place in different national and international fora are a tangible result of this vision. They have fostered dialogue among state, private sector and civil society actors and contributed to shape common views on Internet policies and, more broadly, Internet governance. Seeking to preserve and consolidate this approach, Internet communities, international organisations and other actors have engaged in efforts to pronounce the core values of the Internet and have developed guidelines on various aspects of Internet governance.

4. The Council of Europe has participated in these processes and its 47 member states have supported, in a number of standard-setting instruments, measures aimed at ensuring a maximum of rights on the Internet subject to a minimum of restrictions, while offering the level of security that people are entitled to expect. This stems from the Council of Europe member states’ undertaking to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms protected by the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ETS No. 5).

5. In order to ensure a sustainable, people-centred and rights-based approach to the Internet, it is necessary to affirm the principles of Internet governance which acknowledge human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law, as well as the basic tenets of Internet communities as they have been developed in the processes mentioned above.

6. As a contribution to this ongoing, inclusive, collaborative and open process, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe:

- affirms the principles set out below, which build on Internet governance principles progressively developed by stakeholders and Internet communities;

- declares its firm commitment to these principles and underlines that they should be upheld by all member states in the context of developing national and international Internet-related policies;

- encourages other stakeholders to embrace them in the exercise of their own responsibilities.

Internet governance principles

1. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law

Internet governance arrangements must ensure the protection of all fundamental rights and freedoms and affirm their universality, indivisibility, interdependence and interrelation in accordance with international human rights law. They must also ensure full respect for democracy and the rule of law and should promote sustainable development. All public and private actors should recognise and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms in their operations and activities, as well as in the design of new technologies, services and applications. They should be aware of developments leading to the enhancement of, as well as threats to, fundamental rights and freedoms, and fully participate in efforts aimed at recognising newly emerging rights.

2. Multi-stakeholder governance

The development and implementation of Internet governance arrangements should ensure, in an open, transparent and accountable manner, the full participation of governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community and users, taking into account their specific roles and responsibilities. The development of international Internet-related public policies and Internet governance arrangements should enable full and equal participation of all stakeholders from all countries.

3. Responsibilities of states

States have rights and responsibilities with regard to international Internet-related public policy issues. In the exercise of their sovereignty rights, states should, subject to international law, refrain from any action that would directly or indirectly harm persons or entities outside of their territorial jurisdiction. Furthermore, any national decision or action amounting to a restriction of fundamental rights should comply with international obligations and in particular be based on law, be necessary in a democratic society and fully respect the principles of proportionality and the right of independent appeal, surrounded by appropriate legal and due process safeguards.

4. Empowerment of Internet users

Users should be fully empowered to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms, make informed decisions and participate in Internet governance arrangements, in particular in governance mechanisms and in the development of Internet-related public policy, in full confidence and freedom.

5. Universality of the Internet

Internet-related policies should recognise the global nature of the Internet and the objective of universal access. They should not adversely affect the unimpeded flow of transboundary Internet traffic.

6. Integrity of the Internet

The security, stability, robustness and resilience of the Internet as well as its ability to evolve should be the key objectives of Internet governance. In order to preserve the integrity and ongoing functioning of the Internet infrastructure, as well as users’ trust and reliance on the Internet, it is necessary to promote national and international multi-stakeholder co-operation.

7. Decentralised management

The decentralised nature of the responsibility for the day-to-day management of the Internet should be preserved. The bodies responsible for the technical and management aspects of the Internet, as well as the private sector should retain their leading role in technical and operational matters while ensuring transparency and being accountable to the global community for those actions which have an impact on public policy.

8. Architectural principles

The open standards and the interoperability of the Internet as well as its end-to-end nature should be preserved. These principles should guide all stakeholders in their decisions related to Internet governance. There should be no unreasonable barriers to entry for new users or legitimate uses of the Internet, or unnecessary burdens which could affect the potential for innovation in respect of technologies and services.

9. Open network

Users should have the greatest possible access to Internet-based content, applications and services of their choice, whether or not they are offered free of charge, using suitable devices of their choice. Traffic management measures which have an impact on the enjoyment of fundamental rights and freedoms, in particular the right to freedom of expression and to impart and receive information regardless of frontiers, as well as the right to respect for private life, must meet the requirements of international law on the protection of freedom of expression and access to information, and the right to respect for private life.

10. Cultural and linguistic diversity

Preserving cultural and linguistic diversity and fostering the development of local content, regardless of language or script, should be key objectives of Internet-related policy and international co-operation, as well as in the development of new technologies.