The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Friday that “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.” Based on the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this resolution calls upon all governments of the world to adhere to fifteen points to ensure that human rights are respected on the internet.
The resolution “affirms that the 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.” The resolution later calls on governments to “promote digital literacy and to facilitate access to information on the Internet,” as it can be “an important tool in facilitating the promotion of the right to education.” Related to this, the UN calls all states to “bridge the gender digital divide and enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of all women and girls.”
The resolution was opposed by a group of countries including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, India and South Africa. The point of contention for these countries was the line condemning any intentional disruption to internet access or infringement on the ability to share information online, which they asked to be deleted. This line is crucial, of course—deleting it would be like enshrining freedom of the press but allowing governments to destroy all printing presses.
This resolution stands in direct opposition to recent government actions to intentionally prevent access to the internet. Just last month in the nation of Bahrain, the government shut down mobile internet access in the vicinity of planned anti-government demonstrations. In Turkey, following the recent terrorist attack at the Ataturk Airport, the government throttled social media access, preventing the easy spread of information in a turbulent time. The resolution also calls upon governments to protect individual privacy online, potentially in contention with the United States’ mass surveillance and collection of personal data online.
The UN’s resolution is not binding, but is meant as a guideline to nations to properly protect individuals’ freedom to internet access and expression online. It also serves to put pressure on countries that actively suppress internet access and freedom of speech, and gives credence to activist groups such as Access Now. You can read the full resolution and all its points here.