Commentary: COVID-19 outbreak highlights need for protection of human rights online & scrutiny of internet service providers

Author: Marta Achler, European Center for Not-For-Profit Law, Published on: 17 March 2020

“COVID-19 responses - why we need to protect the human right to act and assemble online”, 13 March 2020

[COVID-19]…began in Wuhan, [as did]…grave violation[s] of the right to freedom of expression, of information and of assembly online. Censorship keeps up [in China]…[with] internet service providers…[being compelled to] comply. [A] host of…‘third generation’ human rights, such as right to work, right to a living wage [have been limited]…[and]…physical assemblies…banned. [It] is important to…monitor whether restrictions to our freedoms…are not misused [or]…remain…after the…threat has lapsed.

[Online] human rights space[s]…desperately require protection. [This] is…challenging…as it involves the acts or inaction of...internet intermediaries [who]...apply their…internally drafted rules on what we may or may not say and how we can appeal blocking or takedown of information. The UN Human Rights Committee is currently revising standards that regulate assemblies,…the [EU] is developing a digital policy…[and] the Council of Europe is also drafting recommendations…

States but also private entities need to undergo the scrutiny to meet the requirements of international law, when deciding what content may or may not be expressed online. European and global bodies must…[elevate] our online gatherings and other online freedoms to the same standards of respect, protection and facilitation as those we conduct in physical spaces.  If this task is taken up seriously, “tutto andrà bene” – everything will be OK.

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