Universal Internet Access, Human Rights, and Iran’s Intranet

//Annenberg- Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute Alum Ameneh Dehshiri analyzes Iran’s proposed national intranet within the the topic of Internet access as a human right.  Dehshiri is a PhD candidate in Politics, Human Rights, and Sustainability at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies.  Read the full article here published in The ITPCM International Commentary.

How can the creation of a “local isolated Internet” be used to restrict Internet access?

Governments may restrict Internet access by employing filtering  to block particular content or by shutting down the Internet connection. A local isolated Internet is the creation of a domestic version of the World Wide Web, the creation of a completely closed system filtered and firewalled as desired. According to official statements, there is an ongoing project for establishing a local isolated Internet in Iran (ISNA, 2012). Researcher Collin Anderson reported on the development of Iran’s Intranet here.

Is universal Internet access outlined as a human right?

Under international human rights law, there aren’t any positive obligations on states to provide universal Internet access (Serrano, 2006). However, freedom of expression as outlined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights includes the freedom to impart information and ideas and includes the mediums through which information is received and distributed. Imposing any limitation on these means is a clear interference with the right to receive and impart information and should be examined by the three – part test of legality, legitimacy, and proportionality, established in Article 19(3) of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Does the creation of a local isolated Internet align with these human rights obligations?

The establishment of ‘National Internet’ in Iran, in particular, was backed by the justification of national security and public order. This justification must be examined according to human rights standards: It must be provided by law (legality); justified for the purpose of protecting security/ public order (legitimacy); necessary and carried out through the least restrictive means required to achieve the purported aim (proportionality).  In regards to legality, blocking citizens’ access to the extensive range of content and services of the World Wide Web as a solution to current social problems and cyber security is not based on a clear predictable legal base. Additionally, the Human Rights Committee mentioned that a law may not confer unfettered discretion for the restriction of freedom of expression on those charged with its execution. Secondly, the protection of national security has a very narrow definition, which is only for the protection of a country’s existence or territorial integrity against force, not as a protection for a governing group’s ideology. Protection of national security and public order in the cyber state does not justify blanket restrictions on freedoms, as any limitation must be commensurate with actual threats, proportionality. Instead, the state should elaborate solutions that bear a direct and immediate link with the threat and adopt measures that effectively respond to the identified threat while restricting as little as possible individual freedoms.

Read the full report here.


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