UN Human Rights Council



The continuing reinvention and worldwide diffusion of the Internet have made it an increasingly central medium of expression of the 21st century, challenging the role of more traditional mass media. In 2017, more than 3.5 billion people worldwide – half of the world’s population – uses the Internet. This could have major societal implications, as the use of the Internet has the potential to reshape global access to information, communication, services, and technologies. Enduring issues, ranging from freedom of the press to the balance of world information flow in all sectors, and from the media to the sciences, will be tied to the Internet as a ‘network of networks’ – an interface between individuals and the news, information, stories, research, cultures and entertainment flowing worldwide.


This very shift in communicative power has spawned greater efforts to restrict and control the use of the Internet for information and communication on political, moral, cultural, security, and other grounds. It is leading also to legal and regulatory initiatives to mitigate risks associated with this new medium, ranging from risks to children, to privacy, to intellectual property rights, to national security, which might more indirectly, and often unintentionally, enhance or curtail freedom of expression.


Freedom of expression is not an inevitable outcome of technological innovation. It can be diminished or reinforced by the design of technologies, policies and practices – sometimes far removed from freedom of expression.


As a consequence, defenders of freedom of expression have raised growing concerns over how legal and regulatory trends might be constraining freedom of expression at the very time that the Internet has become more widely recognized as a major medium for fostering global connection and communication.


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