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Human Rights 26 January 2015

The role of Internet intermediaries in fostering online freedoms

Nicolas Seidler
By Nicolas SeidlerFormer Senior Policy Advisor

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks against Charlie Hebdo, voices have raised the issue of the role of web platforms, or Internet intermediaries, in supporting terrorist acts and ideology. In this specific case, some have inquired whether the French government should be allowed to shut down websites without the intervention of a Court order. 

The debate is still unfolding today. It raises the question of the role of Internet intermediaries and how their operations are affected by different legal frameworks and cultural contexts. 

The recently published UNESCO report entitled Fostering Freedom Online: The Role of Internet Intermediaries is enlightening in this regard.

This comprehensive research, led by a team of 16 international researchers, sheds light on how Internet intermediaries – services that mediate online communication and enable various forms of online expression – both foster and restrict freedom of expression across a range of jurisdictions, circumstances, technologies, and business models.

Results are informed by a set of cases studies covering three categories of intermediaries (search engines, social networks, Internet service providers) across 10 countries (UK, Germany, Egypt, Brazil, India, Kenya, US, China, Russia, Hungary)

Among other findings, the study highlights the increasing number of state requests and injunctions made to intermediaries, which, in parallel, has led many companies to publish transparency reports.

Convinced that well documented research is a valuable addition to the debate, ISOC supported the development of this study. We encourage you to read it and hope it will bring useful evidence on this issue. 

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