Top human rights officials from four international organizations called on governments Wednesday to do more to respect freedom of expression on the Internet.
The declaration was issued by rapporteurs who deal with human rights and freedom of expression issues from the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples' Rights.
"Freedom of expression applies to the Internet, as it does to all means of communication. Restrictions on freedom of expression on the Internet are only acceptable if they comply with established international standards, including that they are provided for by law, and that they are necessary to protect an interest which is recognized under international law," according to the declaration released at a news conference in Budapest, Hungary.
The document outlined other principles including protection from liability for Internet service providers and other intermediaries for content they have no control over; support for network neutrality; and opposition to the blocking or filtering of Internet content or websites.
Last week at the eG8 forum just before the G8 summit in France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for greater government regulation of the Internet and protection of intellectual property.
Sarkozy's comments were criticized by Internet freedom groups and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google Executive Eric Schmidt, who were among several tech executives who attended the eG8 forum.
"Freedom of expression on the Internet must be fully protected," Agnes Callamard, executive director of ARTICLE 19, a London-based human rights and free expression group that helped draft the declaration, said in a statement. "These principles provide important guidance for national governments to meet their obligations."
The group was one of many critical of Sarkozy's comments and of the Internet document issued by the G8, which ARTICLE 19 said did not go far enough to recognize the obligation countries have to protect freedom of expression on the Internet.