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    Interferences with Access to the Internet

    Module 3: Access to the Internet

    Some of the ways in which access to the internet is interfered with is through internet shutdowns, the disruption of online networks and social media sites, and the blocking and filtering of content.  Such interferences can pose severe restrictions on the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, as well as the enjoyment of a range of other rights and services (including mobile banking, online trade and the ability to access government services via the internet).

    The act of disrupting or blocking access to internet services and websites amounts to a form of prior restraint.  Prior restraints are State actions that prohibit speech or other forms of expression before they can take place.(1) Due to the profound chilling effect prior restraint can have on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) has been interpreted as effectively providing for the prohibition of most forms of prior restraint on speech.(2) The American Convention on Human Rights contains a similar prohibition.(3) It is therefore imperative that, in order for any such measure to be permissible, it must be able to comply with the three-part limitations test detailed in Module 1.

    Footnotes

    1. Council of Europe, ‘Prior Restrains and Freedom Of Expression: The Necessity of Embedding Procedural Safeguards in Domestic System’ (May 2018), (accessible at: https://rm.coe.int/factsheet-prior-restraints-rev25may2018/16808ae88c). Back
    2. This has been inferred from the travaux préparatoires of the ICCPR that prior restraints are absolutely prohibited under article 19 of the ICCPR. See Marc J. Bossuyt, ‘Guide to the “Travaux Preparatoires” of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’,Martinus Nijhoff (1987) at p 398. Back
    3. Article 13: “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression.  This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.  2.  The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.” Back