Council of Europe recommendation on the impacts of digital technologies on freedom of expression now adopted by 46 member States

More than two years ago, I had the honor of being selected as one of the 13 members of a new Council of Europe expert committee on Freedom of Expression and Digital Technologies (MSI-DIG). The Council of Europe is the continent’s leading human rights organization and brings together 46 member States, including all members of the European Union and the United Kingdom. Al members are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, whose principles are implemented by the European Court of Human Rights..

Between 2020 and 2021, all members of the MSI-DIG committee worked very closely and benefited enormously from the input of member States and civil society stakeholders, as well as the competent and steady support of the Secretariat, to produce two key documents:

I had the pleasure and honor to serve as Co-Rapporteur, together with the fantastic Alexandra Borchardt, for the drafting of Recommendation CM/Rec(2022)13, which on the 6th of April 2022 has been adopted by the Committee of Ministers. Natali Helberger and Viktors Makarovs were invaluable as Secretary and Deputy Secretary of the Committee. The Council of Europe’s Elena Dodonova and, before her, Charlotte Altenhoener-Dion, were invaluable in helping us navigate both organizational and substantive issues.

The document aims to clarify how States and other stakeholders, including internet intermediaries, can fulfill their human rights obligations and responsibilities with regard to freedom of expression, combining legal, regulatory, administrative and practical measures. It is divided into six sections:

  1. Foundations for human rights-enhancing rule-making
  2. Digital infrastructure design
  3. Transparency
  4. Accountability and redress
  5. Education and empowerment
  6. Independent research for evidence-based rule-making

I hope this document will be useful to policymakers and regulators, private companies, and civil society actors as we all grapple with the difficult choices and trade-offs that the contemporary digital media environment entails for the preservation of human rights. Our Northern star throughout the writing of this document has always been Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is always worth reading in full:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing the Recommendation at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022, held in hybrid format in Punta Del Este (Uruguay). I participated in a panel titled “Freedom of Expression during Conflicts – Curbing of war propaganda/disinformation vs. access to information on internet platforms”. The panel also featured Guy Berger (UNESCO),Eliska Pirkova (Access Now), and Ambassador Thomas Schneider (Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication).

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