Freedom of Expression Online
Conscious of the opportunities and challenges created by the internet for the exercise and enjoyment of human rights, the Council of Europe has engaged in setting and promoting standards to address these challenges. The key objective consists in guaranteeing that the European Convention of Human Rights applies both offline and online, and member states engage to respect, protect and promote these rights on the internet.
In his annual report on “State of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe”, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe provides assessments of the state of freedom of expression on the internet in member states according to ten criteria, including accessibility, law and practice concerning restrictions, policies and control over internet intermediaries, surveillance and education policies. This report regularly identifies trends and provides specific recommendations.
The study “Freedom of expression and the internet” (2013) examines key questions regarding the extent and limits of freedom of expression online. It highlighted the importance of standard-setting, monitoring and promoting activities of international and non-governmental organisations, but also the roles and obligations of all actors on the internet.
The Council of Europe commissioned to the Swiss Institute of Comparative Law a comparative study in respect of filtering, blocking and take-down of illegal content on the internet in the 47 member states of the Organisation. This study describes and assesses the legal framework but also the relevant case-law and practice in the field.
The Recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries (2018) acknowledges the crucial role played by internet intermediaries in modern societies and offers guidelines for member states to help them determine what they should do to ensure that the internet remains an open and safe space where privacy and freedom of expression are protected, and what they should expect from private companies when it comes to respect for user rights, transparency and accountability.
The Recommendation on internet freedom (2016) provides a toolkit with indicators and calls on member states to periodically evaluate the level of respect for and implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms with regard to the internet, and to elaborate national reports.
Launched in April 2014, the “Guide to human rights for internet users” elaborates on human rights online, their possible limitations, and available remedies for such limitations. Starting from the premise that human rights and fundamental freedoms apply equally offline and online, and based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other Council of Europe conventions and instruments, the Guide constitutes a comprehensive tool for all and has been translated into many languages.