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Internet Freedom a Human Right, Says a UN Council

A resolution upholding Internet freedom as a human right was approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last week. After reaffirming the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and noting the importance of the rapidly changing Internet world in that context, the Resolution proclaims, “[T]he same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice…”

Sweden, the resolution’s primary sponsor, worked closely with the United States, as well as Brazil, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Turkey, in presenting the resolution to the UNHRC, and it was supported by more than 80 countries as co-sponsors. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt declared, “Together, we are building a global alliance for the freedom of the Internet…. The vote in Geneva on Thursday was a breakthrough of fundamental importance. Beyond affirming that freedom of expression applies also to the Internet, the resolution also recognized the immense value the Internet has for global development and called on all states to facilitate and improve global access to it.” All the nations of the UNHRC, including China and Russia, approved this resolution. 

Internet freedom promises to remain a key issue this year in the U.S. and abroad. Notably, Republicans and Democrats have rallied around a House resolution (H.Con.Res. 127) opposing a UN regulatory regime over the Web. This bill urges the Executive Branch to advance “the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.” It warns of proposals to be considered at this year’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) “that would fundamentally alter the governance and operation of the Internet.” These proposals that may advance the UN’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) as the regulator of the global online world are likely to be considered at the WCIT in Dubai, UAE, in December. 

  • Read the full text of UNHRC Internet Freedom resolution.
  • Read Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt’s Op-Ed.
  • Find the bill text and more about the bipartisan House Internet freedom resolution.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President Government Relations