Freedom of Expression and the role of the telecommunications and Internet access sector

ARTICLE 19 has responded to the call for submissions on the impact of the telecommunications and Internet access sector on freedom of expression, made by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye. 

Special Rapporteur David Kaye will present his findings to the UN Human Rights Council, during its 35th Session in June 2017. It will be the second report presented as part of a planned project by the Special Rapporteur, which examines the changing roles and responsibilities of the private sector, in relation to freedom of expression in the digital age.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the decision of the Special Rapporteur to engage in this in-depth study into the telecommunications and Internet access sector. We believe that the telecommunications and Internet access sector have been critical in enabling access to and the dissemination of information, but we are also aware of a broad range of human rights concerns in this respect: in particular, this sector’s impact on exercising the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

These concerns include the surveillance and disclosure of communications data, and the various measures taken to block services or impose restrictions outside of the rule of law. We expect that these concerns are unlikely to be ameliorated in the future, with the rapid deployment of what has come to be known as the ‘Internet of Things’ [1], the increased usage of everyday objects connected to the Internet and the power of both state and corporate surveillance. As such, the Special Rapporteur’s scrutiny of state regulation and the practices of private sector actors is extremely important and timely.

ARTICLE 19’s submission builds on our previous contribution to the Special Rapporteur’s 2016 report on Freedom of Expression and the private sector in the digital age, and focuses on identifying:

1. Trends in state regulation of the telecommunications and Internet access sector, including laws and practices enabling the blocking of access; blocking of certain services, or making services illegal; intermediary liability; other forms of restrictions; and national security and emergency powers.

2. The role of telecommunications companies and the Internet acess sector (including Internet exchange points, content distribution networks and submarine cable consortia); examining terms of service, access to the Internet, and issues of transparency and accountability.

3. The role of international Internet technical standards-setting bodies and Internet governance bodies in protecting and promoting freedom of expression, such as W3C IETF, IEEE, ICANN, 3GPP, ISO, ITU-T, ITU-D, and ITU-R.

Read our submission in full.




[1] The International Telecommunication Union defines the Internet of Things as “a global infrastructure for the Information Society, enabling advanced services by interconnecting (physical and virtual) things based on existing and evolving, interoperable information and communication technologies.” New ITU Standards Define the Internet of Things and Provide the Blueprints for its Development. ITU