Governments, private companies and other organisations have a duty to respect the human rights of internet users, the Council of Europe has said.
This declaration comes as the human rights organisation launches a guide detailing information on how internet users across Europe can better understand their rights online and what they can do if they feel these rights are challenged.
The guide covers topics such as freedom of expression and information, freedom of assembly, association and participation, privacy and data protection.
The Council of Europe felt guidance was needed to “empower users to exercise their human rights online”. The Council notes that “generally, their rights are set out in the terms of service of internet companies, which are mostly lengthy legal contractual conditions which are seldom read and even more seldom fully understood”.
The guide is therefore an attempt to give people a better opportunity to understand what their rights are online. It was developed following consultations with government and private companies – particularly telecommunications and online service providers – along with civil society groups.
It makes a point of suggesting that private firms should use the internet responsibly without infringing on the rights of individuals.
Member states should “encourage the private sector to engage in genuine dialogue with relevant state authorities and civil society in the exercise of their corporate social responsibility, states article 5.5 of the guide.”
The guide was formally adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 16 April 2014 at the 1197th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies
“Governments, private companies and other actors have a duty to respect human rights offline and online,” said Council of Europe Secretary General Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland.
“We will work with them to apply the guide and to ensure that internet users have access to effective remedies when they believe their rights have been restricted or violated.” he added.