Module 2: Restricting Access and Content
The internet was created to facilitate the free flow of information;(1) it now allows people to instantaneously access information and services, to communicate, and to share knowledge and ideas. The internet offers an array of opportunities for the realisation of human rights and has, in many instances, been a catalyst for the empowerment of marginalised members of society. It is common cause that the internet is an enabling space for the advancement of the right to freedom of expression, the right of access to information, the right of freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of opinion, thought and belief, the right to be free from discrimination in all forms, the right to education, the right to culture and language, and the right of access to socio‑economic services.
Access to the internet is a crucial component of social, economic and human development, particularly in the African context. The Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in 2019, calls for states to facilitate the rights to freedom of expression and access to information online and to provide the means to exercise these rights. It further highlights that universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet is necessary for the realisation of freedom of expression, access to information and the exercise of other human rights.
However, a range of restrictions to internet access are eroding the right to freedom of expression and associated rights.(2) Suppressive tactics by governments and private actors cause significant challenges in accessing information online. As will become apparent, the unjustifiable restriction of access to the internet is a violation of human rights. This module outlines some of the prevalent harms to access and provides guidance on how to secure fundamental rights and freedoms in the digital age. In doing so, this module focuses on internet shutdowns, the ways in which access to content may be unjustifiably limited through blocking and filtering, the implications of social media taxes, and the harms of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.