22nd November 2011, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives is pleased to release a new report examining the freedom of expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka. Since 2007, the freedom of expression on the Internet has faced considerable restrictions on account of the arbitrary blocking of websites and pronouncements by the government for greater regulation and monitoring of online content. There have also been concerns about the transfer of technology from countries such as China that may strengthen a surveillance regime and lead to further restrictions on web content. These issues along with a repressive legal framework have a chilling effect on freedom of expression on the Internet.
In line with the need to emphasise a rights-based framework when addressing online freedom of expression, the report examines the specific cases and practices that restrict freedom of expression on the Internet with respect to regulation, legislation and arbitrary action. In consideration of international freedom of expression standards, CPA’s report examines the government’s compliance with the broader international best practices and recommendations detailed in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, which was submitted at the Seventeenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The report looks specifically at the arbitrary blocking and filtering of web content; criminalisation of legitimate expression; the status of intermediary liability and actions of intermediaries; the potential for disconnecting users from Internet access, including on the basis of intellectual property law due to the broad nature of intellectual property legislation. The report also examines the potential threat that cyber-attacks may present to online freedom of expression, as well as the growing concern over and implications of the lack of substantive legislation for the protection of individual privacy and data. The final consideration of this report is with regard to Internet access and the acknowledgement of government policies with respect to providing adequate infrastructure for increasing Internet penetration in the country.
While the reform of existing legislation and regulatory practices is required in order to address the clear concerns about online freedom of expression, the report proposes national and international advocacy to ensure that the government addresses the issue of reform and adheres to international standards on the freedom of expression. There is also a need for a multi-stakeholder initiative so that the perspectives of users, intermediaries and other resource persons are incorporated into the design of legislation and formulation regulatory standards, thereby ensuring wide deliberation and participation to achieve the ultimate goal of strengthening freedom of expression on the Internet in Sri Lanka.