Human Rights and the Internet

It is often asserted that the Internet is a human right. Of course, the Internet is a technical tool and only access to the Internet can be a human right. For example, today, searches for and delivery of information are made possible by the digital world, and protests and demonstrations are often organised using these resources. Therefore, questions related to an open and free Internet often arise. The significance of the Internet as a channel for finding and delivering information and its importance as social media have caused many people to state that the Internet and access thereto has become a human rights. The Institute believes that the Internet itself is not a human right, but the Internet is an increasingly important tool for ensuring human rights.

Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, wrote the following in a report dated 16 May 2011: “Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights. For example, these days the majority of demonstrations utilise the possibilities provided by the digital world and the lack of Internet access, or censorship, may essentially deprive people of the opportunity to find out about events and therefore participate in them. Therefore, increasingly, the issue of an open and free Internet as the guarantor of human rights is being raised.

Estonia is known in the world as a successful e-state, where the citizens can utilise most public and private-sector services electronically, and ensuring Internet freedom on a national priority. From the viewpoint of protecting human rights, it is necessary to monitor developments in the digital world, to analyse the impact of governmental restrictions on (e-) society throughout the world and to propose suitable policies to ensure Internet freedom.

The Institute believes that it is the task of every country that respects human rights to ensure access to the Internet throughout the country for a reasonable cost. The creation of a benefits system by the state for certain population groups, for instance, the least privileged or disabled people, should be considered, which could provide compensation for Internet connection fees and the acquisition of specialised equipment, as well as free training.

In order to guarantee freedoms of speech and assembly, restrictions must not be placed on people’s access to information on the Internet, on expressing one’s opinions through the Internet and the creation of social networks. In this sphere, the Institute monitors the initiatives for amending Estonia’s legal order and, if necessary, submits policy recommendations to governmental institutions.

The openness of the Internet, as a global information and social channel, cannot be guaranteed without international cooperation. The Institute hopes that the principles of an open Internet are established throughout the European Union, and therefore, is working to make sure that the propositions about Internet freedom initiated in Estonia become regulations throughout the European Union through European civil initiatives.