Internet regulation must not curtail freedom of expression
Reporters Without Borders has written to all the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States – Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – voicing concern about a framework law on Internet regulation that the CIS adopted on 16 May. It contains several repressive provisions and, although not binding, it is intended to serve as guidelines for legislation in individual CIS member states.
Dear Prime Minister,
The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders would like to draw your attention to Framework Law No. 36-9 “On the Bases of Internet Regulation, ” which was adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States on 16 May 2011 in the presence of a delegation from your country.
Although not binding, this law’s 13 articles are intended to serve as a reference for legislation by CIS member countries. However, the implementation of some of this law’s articles would dangerously contradict the principles of online free expression and Net Neutrality by encouraging member states to exercise excessive control over what is a privileged space for exchanging information.
Article 9, about “international cooperation in the domain of Internet regulation, ” promotes a dangerous degree of state intervention at the expense of Internet self-regulation. It stipulates that state control over Internet content and users should be reinforced by the creation of various state agencies.
Subsection 2 refers to a body empowered by the authorities to defend the state’s interests over the Internet.” Subsection 3 refers to an agency with the job of registering national domain IP addresses. It would have the power to cancel second-level domain names and therefore to close platforms such as LiveJournal in cases in which the country’s law is broken or in cases of “threats to public order in other countries.” The implementation of this provision would help to divide the Internet into national segments in direct violation of the principle of Net Neutrality, which bans any discrimination as regards network access.
Article 13 is also a source of much concern because it makes it obligatory for Internet access providers to keep user data for at least a year and make it available to the judicial authorities and law-enforcement agencies. The scope of this measure, above all, the nature of the data being retained, must be clearly defined in order to reassure users that their personal data is not being misused by the authorities and to ensure that the length of time it is being retained is not excessive. The Internet should not be used as a space for monitoring and controlling citizens, who have a right to privacy.
We urge your government to take note of these various issues. Internet regulation should not be imposed at the expense of freedom of expression, which is enshrined in international conventions ratified by your country. In a joint declaration on 1 June 2011, the United Nations and the OSCEstressed that, “Restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet are only acceptable if they comply with established international standards.”
You are bound by this declaration, which contains guidelines that would be a much better source of inspiration for your country’s legislators than Framework Law No. 36-9. It stressed that freedom of expression applies to the Internet as well, and that states have an obligation to promote universal Internet access. We urge you to enshrine Internet access as a fundamental right in your Constitution.
We thank you in advance for the attention you give to our letter.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general