of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection and promotion of the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet
(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 21 September 2011
at the 1121st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)
1. The member states of the Council of Europe, States Parties to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ETS No. 5, hereinafter “the Convention”) have undertaken in Article 1 to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in this Convention. They have particular roles and responsibilities in securing the protection and promotion of these rights and freedoms and can be held to account for violations of these rights and freedoms before the European Court of Human Rights.
2. The right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference, is essential for citizens’ participation in democratic processes. This right to freedom of expression applies to both online and offline activities, regardless of frontiers. In a Council of Europe context, its protection should be ensured in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention and the relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
3. The Internet enables people to have access to information and services, to connect and to communicate, as well as to share ideas and knowledge globally. It provides essential tools for participation and deliberation in political and other activities of public interest.
4. The individual’s freedom to have access to information and to form and express opinions, and the ability of groups to communicate and share views on the Internet depend on actions related to the Internet’s infrastructure and critical resources, and on decisions on information technology design and deployment. Governmental action may also have a bearing on the exercise of these freedoms.
5. In particular, access to and use of the Internet is exposed to risks of disruption of the stable and ongoing functioning of the network due to technical failures and is vulnerable to other acts of interference with its infrastructure. The question of the stability and resilience of the Internet is intrinsically related to the cross-border interconnectedness and interdependence of its infrastructure, as well as its decentralised and distributed nature. Actions that take place in one jurisdiction may affect the ability of users to have access to information on the Internet in another.
6. Moreover, decisions taken in the context of the technical co-ordination and management of resources that are critical for the functioning of the Internet, notably domain names and Internet protocol addresses, may have a direct bearing on users’ access to information and on protection of personal data. These resources are distributed in different jurisdictions and are managed by various non-governmental entities with a regional or global remit.
7. Against this background, the protection of freedom of expression and access to information on the Internet and the promotion of the public service value of the Internet are part of a larger set of concerns about how to ensure the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet.
8. People increasingly rely on the Internet for their everyday activities and to ensure their rights as citizens. They have a reasonable expectation that Internet services will be accessible and affordable, secure, reliable and ongoing. The Internet is, similarly, a critical resource for numerous sectors of the economy and public administration.
9. These expectations give rise to state responsibility to preserve carefully the general public interest in Internet-related policy making. Indeed, many countries have recognised the public service value of the Internet, whether in their national policies or legislation or in the form of political declarations, including in international fora.
10. States have a duty to ensure the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of their citizens and they are called upon to respond to their legitimate expectations regarding the critical role of the Internet. As a result, it is the role of states to ensure the protection of the public interest in international Internet-related public policy.
11. In addition, states have mutual expectations that best efforts will be made to preserve and promote the public service value of the Internet. In this context, it is necessary to acknowledge their shared and mutual responsibilities to take reasonable measures to protect and promote the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet as a means of safeguarding freedom of expression and access to information regardless of frontiers.
12. Therefore, the Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe, recommends member states to:
– be guided by the principles contained in the Committee of Ministers’ Declaration on Internet governance principles, both in the context of developing national Internet-related policies and when participating in such endeavours within the international community;
– protect and promote the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet having regard to the principles and in accordance with the commitment set out in this recommendation, and ensure that they are reflected in practice and law;
– ensure the broad dissemination of this commitment to all public authorities and private entities, in particular those dealing with the management of resources that are critical for the functioning of the Internet, and to civil society organisations;
– encourage these actors to support and promote the implementation of the principles included in the present recommendation.
Commitment to protect and promote the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet
1. General principles
1.1. No harm
1.1.1. States have the responsibility to ensure, in compliance with the standards recognised in international human rights law and with the principles of international law, that their actions do not have an adverse transboundary impact on access to and use of the Internet.
1.1.2. This should include, in particular, the responsibility to ensure that their actions within their jurisdictions do not illegitimately interfere with access to content outside their territorial boundaries or negatively impact the transboundary flow of Internet traffic.
States should co-operate in good faith with each other and with relevant stakeholders at all stages of development and implementation of Internet-related public policies to avoid any adverse transboundary impact on access to and use of the Internet.
1.3. Due diligence
Within the limits of non-involvement in day-to-day technical and operational matters, states should, in co-operation with each other and with all relevant stakeholders, take all necessary measures to prevent, manage and respond to significant transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet, or, in any event, to minimise the risk and consequences arising from such events.
2. Integrity of the Internet
2.1.1. States should, jointly, and in consultation with relevant stakeholders, develop and implement emergency plans for managing and responding to disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet.
2.1.2. In particular, states should co-operate with a view to supporting the development and implementation of common standards, rules and practices aimed at preserving and strengthening the stability, robustness and resilience of the Internet.
2.1.3. States should create an environment that facilitates information sharing and response co-ordination among stakeholders, notably through the creation of public-private partnerships, in respect of activities involving a risk of causing significant transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet.
States should, without delay, provide notification of any risk of significant transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet to potentially affected states.
2.2.2. Information sharing
States should, in a timely manner, provide potentially affected states with all available information relevant to responding to transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet.
States should enter into consultation with each other without delay with a view to achieving mutually acceptable solutions regarding measures to be adopted to respond to significant transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet.
2.2.4. Mutual assistance
As appropriate, and with due regard to their capabilities, states should, in good faith, offer their assistance to other affected states with a view to mitigating the adverse effects of transboundary disruptions to, and interferences with, the infrastructure of the Internet.
States should, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, within the limits of non-involvement in day-to-day technical and operational matters, develop reasonable legislative, administrative or other measures as appropriate to implement their due diligence commitments regarding the integrity of the Internet.
States should engage in dialogue and co-operation for the further development of international standards relating to responsibility and liability and to the settlement of related disputes.
3. Resources that are critical for the functioning of the Internet
States should take all reasonable measures to ensure that the development and application of standards, policies, procedures or practices in connection with the management of resources that are critical for the functioning of the Internet incorporate protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms of Internet users in compliance with the standards recognised in international human rights law.