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Council of Europe: A Guide to Human Rights on the Internet

The Council of Europe emphasizes that, in general, user rights are defined in the terms of its companies Internet, which are rarely read and even more rarely fully understood.

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The Council of Europe mentions basic human rights in Internet: protection of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, association and participation, protection of privacy and data protection, education and training, the protection of children and young people and the right to effective judicial protection for human rights violations.

The Guide was already adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, with the participation of the foreign ministers of 47 member states of this pan-European Organization.

"Governments, private companies and others have an obligation to respect human rights offline and online. "We will work with them to implement the guide, and to ensure that Internet users have access to effective remedies when they feel their rights have been restricted or violated," said Thorbj .rn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe.

In summary, the Guide provides that:

  • Internet access is a catalyst for the exercise of other human rights, and users should not be disconnected from the Internet without their will, except by court decisions.
  • Users have the right to express themselves freely on the Internet and have access to information and opinions of others, including those who may affect, shock or disturb others by respecting the privacy of others. Public authorities have a duty to respect and protect this right.
    • As clarified here, any restrictions on this freedom must be dictated by a legitimate aim, in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
    • It states, for example, that restricting freedom of expression on the Internet is legitimate when it comes to protecting national security or public order, but even in this case it must be in line with human rights law.
    • These restrictions, emphasized, can be applied to users who, with their writings, engage in discrimination, hatred or violence.
  • Users have the right of association and participation and therefore have the freedom to choose any website, application or other service to connect and participate in online activities.
    • They should, however, be aware that they may have legal consequences if the online protest leads to barriers to access, interruption of service or damage to the property of others.
  • Personal data of users should be processed only if they have consented or prescribed by law. Users should be informed of what processing of personal data is done and by whom and for what purpose, and of how legitimate it is to exercise control over them.
  • Users should not be subject to general surveillance or monitoring measures except in exceptional cases provided for by law, such as criminal investigation.
  • Children and young people are entitled to special protection and guidance when using the Internet. If the content they have posted endangers their dignity, security or privacy, or may be harmful to them in the future, at their request, it should be deleted within a short time. They should also be protected from interventions aimed at sexual exploitation and abuse.
  • Users have the right to genuinely appeal against the violation of their human rights.
    • In such cases, they can appeal (not necessarily judicially) to Internet service providers, public authorities, or resort to human rights organizations, asking for explanations about their possible exclusion, corrections or even indemnities.
    • The Guide explicitly states that Internet service providers, content and service providers or other businesses or public authorities should provide users with easily accessible information about their rights and the national authorities have an obligation to protect users from criminal activity committed through the Internet.
    • If users are charged with a criminal offense committed on the Internet, they have the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal and to an individual appeal to the European Court of Human Rights after all available internal actions have been exhausted media.

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Strasbourg, 17.04.2014 - The Council of Europe today launched a guide for Internet users to help them better understand their human rights online and what they can do when these rights are challenged.

The creation of the Guide was triggered by the need to empower users to exercise their human rights online. In general, their rights are set out in the terms of service of Internet companies, which are mostly lengthy legal contract terms that are rarely read and even more rarely fully understood.

The Guide focuses on the human rights issue, which has the most impact on the Internet: access and non-discrimination, freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly, association and participation, privacy and data protection, education and literacy, , and the right to effective remedies for violations of human rights.

Adopted by the Committee of Ministers representing the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, it is based on the rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights and on the other Council of Europe conventions and legal texts.

Thorbjørn Jagland, General Secretary, said: "Governments, private companies and other actors have a duty to respect human rights offline and online. We will work with them to apply the guide and ensure that internet users have access to effective remedies when they believe their rights have been restricted or violated. "

The Guide was developed with broad multi-stakeholder consultation with governments, private companies, in particular telecommunication and online service providers, civil society organizations, and representatives of the technical community and academia.

Recommendation CM / Rec (2014) 6
of the Committee of Ministers to the Member States
on and Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users (Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 April 2014
at the 1197th meeting of the Ministers' Deputies) 1. The European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, the Convention) is the responsibility of the Member States of the Council of Europe to ensure that their rights and fundamental freedoms are protected in their jurisdiction. This obligation is also valid in the context of Internet use. Other Council of Europe conventions and instruments dealing with the protection of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to privacy, the protection of personal data, are also applicable.2. The obligations of States to respect, protect and promote human rights include the oversight of private companies. Human rights, which are universal and indivisible, and related standards, prevail over the general terms and conditions imposed on Internet users by any private sector actor.

3. The Internet has a public service value. People, communities, public authorities and private entities rely on the Internet for their activities and have a legitimate expectation that its services are affordable, secure, reliable and ongoing. Furthermore, no one should be subjected to unlawful, unnecessary or disproportionate interference with the exercise of their human rights and fundamental freedoms when using the Internet.

4. Users should receive support to understand and effectively exercise their human rights online when their rights and freedoms have been restricted or interfered with. This support should include guidance on access to effective remedies. In light of the opportunities that the Internet provides for transparency and accountability in the conduct of public affairs, users should be empowered to use the Internet to participate in democratic life.

5. To ensure that existing human rights and fundamental freedoms apply equally offline and online, the Committee of Ministers recommends under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe that Member States:

5.1. actively promote the guidelines on human rights for Internet users, as set out in the Annex, among citizens, public authorities and private sector actors, and take specific action on its application to enable users to fully exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms online;

5.2. in particular, when they are not in conformity with the Convention, in the light of the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights, to assess, regularly review and, as appropriate, remove restrictions on the exercise of rights and freedoms. Any legitimate aim and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued must be prescribed by law, necessary in a democratic society;

5.3. ensure that Internet users have access to effective remedies when their rights and freedoms have been restricted or when they believe that their rights have been violated. This requires enhancing co-ordination and co-operation among relevant institutions, entities and communities. It also requires the engagement and effective co-operation with private sector actors and civil society organizations. Depending on the national context, this may include redress mechanisms such as those provided by data protection authorities, national human rights institutions (such as ombudsmen), court procedures and hotlines;

5.4. promote co-ordination with other States and non-State actors, within and beyond the Council of Europe, with regard to standards and procedures that have an impact on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet;

5.5. encouraging the private sector to engage in genuine dialogue with relevant government authorities and the civil society in the exercise of their corporate social responsibility, in particular their transparency and accountability, in line with the "Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations" Protect, Respect and Remedy 'Framework. The private sector should also be encouraged to contribute to the dissemination of the guide;

5.6. encourage civil society to support the dissemination and application of the guide so that it provides an effective tool for Internet users.

Appendix to Recommendation CM / Rec (2014) 6

Introduction

1. This guide is a tool for you, the Internet user, to learn about your human rights online, their possible limitations, and available remedies for such limitations. Human rights and fundamental freedoms apply equally offline and online. This principle includes respect for the rights and freedoms of other Internet users. The guide provides you with information about what rights and freedoms mean in practice in the context of the Internet, how they can be relied upon and how they can be accessed, and how to access remedies. It is an evolving document, open to periodic updating.

2. This guideline is based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other Council of Europe conventions and instruments dealing with various aspects of human rights protection. All the Member States of the Council of Europe have the duty to respect, protect and fulfill the rights and freedoms contained in the instruments they have ratified. The guide is also inspired by the continuous interpretation of these rights and freedoms by the European Court of Human Rights and other relevant legal instruments of the Council of Europe.

3. The guide does not establish new human rights and fundamental freedoms. It builds on existing human rights standards and enforcement mechanisms.1

Access and non-discrimination

1. Access to the Internet is an important means for you to exercise your rights and freedoms and to participate in democracy. You should therefore not be disconnected from the Internet against your will, except when it is decided by a court. In certain cases, contractual arrangements may also lead to discontinuation of service, but this should be a measure of last resort.

2. Your access should be affordable and non-discriminatory. You should have the best possible access to Internet content, applications and services using the devices of your choice.

3. You should expect the public authorities to make reasonable efforts and take specific measures to facilitate your access to the Internet if you live in rural and geographically remote areas, have low income and / or have special needs or disabilities.

4. In your interactions with public authorities, Internet service providers and providers of online content and services, or with other users or groups of users, you should not be discriminated against on any grounds such as gender, race, color, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, including ethnicity, age or sexual orientation.

Freedom of expression and information

You have the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of your choice, without interference and regardless of frontiers. This means:

1. you have the freedom to express yourself online and to access information and opinions and expressions of others. This includes political speech, views on religion, opinions and expressions that are favoredly received or regarded as inoffensive, but also those that may offend, shock or disturb others. You should have due regard to the reputation or rights of others, including their right to privacy;

2. restrictions may apply to expressions that incite discrimination, hatred or violence. These restrictions must be lawful, narrowly tailored and executed with court oversight;

3. you are free to create, re-use and distribute content respecting the right to the protection of intellectual property, including copyright;

4. public authorities have a duty to respect and protect your freedom of expression and your freedom of information. Any restrictions to this freedom must not be arbitrary, must pursue a legitimate aim in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, such as, among others, the protection of national security, public health or morals and must respect human rights law. Furthermore, they must be made known to you, coupled with information on how to seek guidance and redress, and not be broader or maintained for longer than is strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate aim;

5. your Internet service provider and your provider of online content and services have corporate responsibilities to respect your human rights and provide mechanisms to respond to your claims. You should be aware, however, that online service providers, such as social networks, may restrict certain types of content and behavior due to their content policies. You should be informed of possible restrictions so that you can make informed decisions as to whether to use the service or not. This includes specific information on what the online service provider considers as illegal or inappropriate content and behavior when using the service and how it is dealt with by the provider;

6. you may choose not to disclose your identity online, for example by using a pseudonym. However, you should be aware that measures can be taken by national authorities, which may lead to your identity being revealed.

Assembly, association and participation

You have the right to peacefully assemble and associate with others using the Internet. In practice, this means:

1. you have the freedom to choose any website, application or other service to form, join, mobilize and participate in social groups and assemblies whether or not they are formally recognized by public authorities. You should also be able to use the Internet to exercise your right to form and join trade unions;

2. you have the right to protest peacefully online. However, you should be aware that if your online protest leads to blockages, disruption of services and / or damage to property of others, you may have legal consequences;

3. you have the freedom to use available online tools to participate in local, national and global public policy debates, legislative initiatives and public scrutiny of decision-making processes, including the right to sign petitions and to participate in policy making related to how the Internet is governed.

Privacy and data protection

You have the right to privacy and family life on the Internet, which includes the protection of your personal data and respect for the confidentiality of your correspondence and communications. This means:

1. you should be aware that in your use of the Internet your personal data is regularly processed. This happens when you use services such as browsers, email, instant messaging, voice over Internet protocols, social networking and search engines and cloud data storage services;

2. public authorities and private companies have a duty to respect specific rules and procedures when they process your personal data;

3. your personal data should only be processed when you have been given the law or when you have consented to it. You should be informed of what personal data is processed and / or transferred to third parties, when, by whom and for what purpose. Generally, you should be able to exercise control over your personal data (check its accuracy, request a correction, and delete or that personal data is kept for no longer than necessary);

4. you must not be subject to general surveillance or interception measures. In exceptional circumstances, which are prescribed by law, your privacy with regard to your personal data may be interfered with, such as for criminal investigation. Accessible, clear and accurate information about the relevant law or policy and your rights in this regard should be made available to you;

5. Your privacy should also be respected at the workplace. This includes the privacy of your private online correspondence and communications. Your employer must inform you of any surveillance and / or monitoring carried out;

6. you can be assisted by data protection authorities, which exist in a vast majority of European countries, to ensure that data protection laws and principles are upheld.

Education and literacy

You have the right to education, including access to knowledge. This means:

1. you should have online access to education and to cultural, scientific, scholarly and other content in official languages. The conditions may apply to such access in order to remunerate the rights of the holders for their work. You should also be able to freely access publicly funded research and cultural works in the public domain on the Internet, where available;

2. as part of Internet and media literacy, you should have access to digital education and knowledge in order to exercise your rights and freedoms on the Internet. This includes skills to understand, use, and work with a wide range of Internet tools. This should enable you to critically analyze the accuracy and reliability of content, applications and services that you access or wish to access.

Children and young people

As a child or young person, you have all the rights and freedoms outlined in this guide. In particular, due to your age, you are entitled to special protection and guidance when using the Internet. This means:

1. you have the right to freely express your views and participate in society, to be heard and to contribute to the decision making on matters affecting you. Your views must be given due weight in accordance with your age and maturity and without discrimination;

2. you can expect to receive information in a language appropriate to your age and training from your teachers, educators and parents or guardians about the safe use of the Internet, including how to preserve your privacy;

3. you should be aware that the content you create on the Internet or the content related to you created by other Internet users may be accessible worldwide and could compromise your dignity, security and privacy or otherwise be detrimental to you or your rights now or at a later stage in your life. Upon your request, this should be removed or deleted within a reasonably short period of time;

4. you can expect clear information about online content and behavior that is illegal (for example, online harassment) as well as the possibility to report alleged illegal content. This information should be adapted to your age and circumstances and you should be provided with advice and support with due respect for your confidentiality and anonymity;

5. you should be afforded a special protection against interference with your physical, mental and moral welfare, in particular regarding sexual exploitation and abuse on the Internet and other forms of cybercrime. In particular, you have the right to education to protect yourself from such threats.

Effective remedies

1. You have the right to an effective remedy when your human rights and fundamental freedoms are restricted or violated. To obtain a remedy, you should not necessarily have to pursue legal action straight away. The avenues for seeking remedies should be available, known, accessible, affordable and capable of providing adequate redress. Effective remedies can be obtained directly from Internet service providers, public authorities and / or national human rights institutions. Effective remedies can include, inter alia, inquiry, explanation, reply, correction, apology, restoration, reconnection and compensation. In practice, this means:

1.1. your Internet service provider, providers of access to online content and services, or other companies and / or public authorities should inform you about your rights, freedoms and possible remedies and how to obtain them. This includes easily accessible information about how to report and complain about interference with your rights and how to seek redress;

1.2. additional information and guidance should be available from public authorities, national human rights institutions (such as ombudsmen), data protection authorities, citizens' advice offices, human rights or digital rights associations or consumer organizations;

1.3. national authorities have a duty to protect you from criminal activity or criminal offenses committed on or using the Internet, in particular when it concerns illegal access, interference, forgery or other fraudulent manipulation of your digital identity, computer and data contained therein. The relevant law enforcement authorities have a duty to investigate and take appropriate action, including seeking sanctions, if you complain of damage to or interference with your personal identity and your property online.

2. In the determination of your rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against you regarding the Internet:

2.1. you have the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court;

2.2. you have the right to an individual application to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting all available domestic remedies.

1 This guide is part of a recommendation adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe. More detailed information explaining the guide can be found in the explanatory memorandum to the recommendation.

Council of Europe

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