Australian Permanent Mission and Consulate-General
Geneva, Switzerland
Address: Chemin des Fins 2, Case Postale 102, 1211 Geneva 19 - Telephone: 022 799 9100 - Fax: 022 799 9178

Human Rights Council - 19th Regular Session

Panel discussion on freedom of expression on the internet

29 February 2012

Australia is committed to guaranteeing every person’s right to freedom of opinion and expression. These rights, along with the rights to freedom of opinion and association, are guaranteed in international human rights law, regardless of the communication medium used to express these freedoms. Human rights apply to activity and communications on the internet in the same way as they apply to activity offline.

Like many tools that we use day-to-day, the internet can be used to achieve a multitude of ends. There is nothing intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘evil’ about the internet: it is up to all of us to put it to good use. In the same way, when people choose to use the internet for criminal ends, such the distribution of child pornography, we cannot blame the internet itself.

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s observation that the right to freedom of expression and free flow of information is a foundation for every free and democratic society. Australia supports an open internet, where people can freely access information and express their ideas. Sharing ideas and experiences – both online and offline – empowers both societies and individuals. Just as there are exceptional circumstances where information may need to be restricted offline, certain information, such as child abuse material, may also need to be restricted online.”

Australia believes the internet is essential to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. It is also a critical means to other rights, such as the right to education, the right to freedom of association and assembly, and the right to full participation in social, cultural and political life. The relevance of the internet to all human rights will continue to increase, as technological development, sharing of information and use of new communication and content platforms evolve. Technological innovations can also facilitate trade and economic growth. Australia encourages all countries to recognise the enormous positive potential that these technologies bring.

Australia welcomes the multi-stakeholder approach to this panel, and supports the continued engagement of public and private actors, civil society and national human rights institutions in these discussions.