The Internet is the most disruptive communication technology of our time, revolutionising the free flow of information between individuals by offering anyone with an Internet connection the ability to gather and share information and ideas. Yet the technologies that make this possible can also be used to limit access to information through content blocking and full-scale Internet shutdowns, or stifle expression through surveillance on a scale previously unimaginable.
In recent years, States have adopted myriad laws to regulate content online, increasingly putting pressure on private actors to censor content which they deem illegal or simply “harmful.” Much of the world’s online content is now regulated by the community standards and algorithms of a handful of Internet companies, whose operations and processes lack transparency. Internet users’ right to free expression is easily subject to abuse in this regulatory environment, the complexity of which is compounded by the fact that the Internet is a public space built on decentralized private infrastructure. Though often described as neutral or apolitical, standard-setting bodies and infrastructure providers wield great influence by determining what is or is not possible on the Internet.
The open flow of information has been key to the Internet’s transformative effect in modern society. In order to safeguard its benefits, the right to free expression must be defended when addressing issues of content and defining the technical management of the Internet’s architecture.