Global Freedom of Expression



Are Courts Re-inventing Internet Regulation?

Key Details

  Discussion Paper

May 2015

The debate  on Internet  governance,  and freedom  of expression  on­-line  in particular,  has largely   focused   on  the  place   of  Internet   technology   itself   in  the  various   regulatory frameworks and principles.  The infrastructure of its hardware, the design of its software and a  range of other elements altogether form the cyberspace or the digital world within which human beings connect, inform, communicate,  sell and buy, and also harm each other. All technological  components  (hardware,  software,  nodes,  etc.)  are  potentially  matters for regulation,  which  greatly  impacts  on  the  governance  of  the  Internet,  and  the  protection  of human rights and freedom of expression on­-line.  It is easy to see why for many years technology was seen and construed as determining Internet governance and regulation, on-­line values and norms, particularly in view of the relative weaknesses of other actors, states included, in the earlier days of Internet governance.   This state of affairs has progressively, and  then  rapidly,  evolved  with  every  few  years  bringing  different  actors,  and  shifting divisions of power and responsibilities amongst them.  The original model of a cyber-world governed by the technologist or engineer and (some) users has morphed into an incredibly complex array of actors whose interaction and relative power with regard to Internet governance   are  the  objects  of  much  debate  amongst   academics,   policy  makers  and practitioners alike.

This  paper  introduces  an actor,  which  has been  neglected  so far by those  analyzing  the forces  shaping  the  Internet  world  and  founding  its  normative   system(s),   namely  the Tribunals  –  national  or  regional  judges  and  courts.  It  is  part  of  a  larger  research  into understanding  the formation  of global  norms  on freedom  of expression  and information (FoE/I) in an era defined and dominated by information, asking whether we are witnessing the  emergence  of  an  inter-meshed  legal  global  system  for  freedom  of  expression  and information, guided by common norms.

The full paper is available for download under Publications. 






Agnès Callamard

Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression; Special Adviser to the President, Columbia University
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions