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Stand up against unaccountable Net censorship

When ISPs and social media platforms are held legally responsible for all content passing through them, we all lose out. Sign the Manila Principles and ask our governments to adopt appropriate policies that protect us from arbitrary extrajudicial control of our right to free expression.

Add your name now to the Manila Principles!

The Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability are a global civil society initiative developed by the EFF and other IFEX members that seek to define a set of best practices for protecting the legitimate interests of internet users, content producers, and intermediaries. They define six general principles for appropriately restricting content, while leaving the ultimate decision-making power and responsibility to where it belongs – with transparent, accountable national courts.

The time is now for us to tell our governments that we possess the same rights to free expression online as we enjoy offline. The Grand Chamber of the European Court recently ruled in favour of Estonia's right to hold news portals responsible for content in their comments section. There's a real danger that the European Commission will soon expand this ruling to a regional distinction between 'passive host' intermediaries such as ISPs, and so-called 'active host' intermediaries such as social networks, who will be held legally accountable for monitoring and policing their content – a disastrous outcome for freedom of speech, and a dangerous precedent for the rest of the world.

Add your name today to the list of those endorsing the Manila Principles and help protect the net as a bastion of free speech!

Background on Net Intermediaries

Internet service providers, search engines, website hosts and social networks are the fundamental glue that holds our experience of the net together. Yet across the world, governments are experimenting with different ways of holding these intermediaries legally responsible for monitoring, controlling and censoring our use of their services – with frequently disastrous results.

In the US, copyright claims that trigger automatic takedowns with no human oversight are being used to disrupt legitimate civil protest. In Thailand, news web site owners are being imprisoned for not removing anti-monarchist comments fast enough. In South Korea, intermediaries are being held legally responsible if they could conceivably have been aware of illegal content on their networks, effectively requiring them to develop systems of mass surveillance of their users on behalf of the state.

It isn't difficult to see why pushing this responsibility onto intermediaries is tempting for law-makers: net service providers have the knowledge and access to easily restrict content, and forcing them to do so limits the resource commitment of national courts. By moving this decision from the courts, however, we sacrifice all our hard-won rights to due and transparent process, in favour of the opaque and unaccountable decisions of a handful of private entities.

Since the most powerful incentive for these companies is to minimize their exposure to legal risk, the resulting free expression restriction regime is by its nature extremely aggressive, removing content not only when it clearly meets legal criteria for removal, but if it could conceivably could – a dangerously low threshold for networks that are central to our online civil spaces.

Want to know more?

  • Article 19 prepared an intermediate liability Q&A that succinctly explains what intermediary liability is, and why we should care about it.
  • The EFF prepared a more detailed background paper to the principles that explores why these principles were selected in the first place.

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