Internet Freedom a Basic Right, UN Declares

July 9, 2012 Updated: July 18, 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council affirmed that people should have the same human rights while using the Internet and in other technologies as they do offline, including the freedom of expression.

The historic accord was signed by 72 countries and it was presented by the U.S., Tunisia, Brazil, Nigeria, Turkey, and Sweden.

“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 text in the resolution reads. The Internet and similar technologies, the resolution said, is a “driving force” to promote progress towards several forms of development.

China, considered the largest filterer of the Internet through its Great Firewall, signed the non-binding accord, which means that it does not have to actually change its Internet policy. Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, said that these non-binding agreements are usually done to publicly shame states who don’t support those resolutions.

“That even China, despite the obvious hypocrisy, felt compelled to sign on shows it isn’t comfortable publicly owning up to the Internet censorship regime that it tries to maintain,” Roth told The New York Times.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that the signing of the accord has resonated throughout the world and not only in a few Western countries, according to an opinion piece he wrote in the Times.

“In past decades, massive crimes could be committed in Syria and other countries without us even knowing. But we can now follow what is happening minute by minute, megabyte by megabyte,” Bildt wrote in the editorial.

Bildt said the affirmation was partially designed to protect bloggers and online activists from harassment.

He added, “We cannot accept that the Internet’s content should be limited or manipulated depending on the flavor-of-the-month of political leaders.”