The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the world’s largest security-focused intergovernmental organisation, has published a communiqué “on free expression and the fight against terrorism”.
The main focus of the communiqué is to urge participating states to avoid putting in place anti-terrorism measures which “unduly restrict … human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to free expression and media freedom”.
Freedom of expression is a prerequisite to prevent and counter violent extremism and radicalization that leads to terrorism. It can play a critical role in promoting equality and combating intolerance. The media, the Internet and other digital technologies have an essential role in keeping society informed. Even in difficult times, governments must create environments conducive to the free flow of information and should take particular care not to adopt restrictive measures.
While not expressing principled opposition to blocking measures, the OSCE urges participating states to respect due process.
Terrorists are undoubtedly taking advantage of an open and free internet …It is acknowledged under international law that violent content and hate speech online may be restricted, but content take-down and blocking and filtering measures must be in accordance with international standards. Due process such as transparency, accountability and the right to reply must also be respected and content restrictions must be subject to independent judicial review.
In particular, content should only be restricted for national security reason under limited circumstances.
[Participating states should] only restrict content that is considered a threat to national security if it can be demonstrated that it is intended to incite imminent violence, likely to incite such violence and there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood of occurrence of such violence.
The communiqué also emphasises the importance of encryption as “a prerequisite for safe and secure communications for journalists”.
Anonymity and encryption technologies may be the only guarantee for safe and secure communications for journalists and therefore are a prerequisite for the right to exercise freedom of expression. Blanket prohibitions are disproportionate and therefore unacceptable, and encryption regulation introducing “backdoors” and “key escrows” to give law enforcement and intelligence access to “the dark web” should not be adopted.
OSCE communiqués are not binding on participating States, but they are part of the process of the framework within which international norms on security issues are generated.