Access to the Internet should be seen as a fundamental human right and respected as much as freedom of expression, the transatlantic security body OSCE said in a report Friday.
"Everyone should have a right to participate in the information society and states have a responsibility to ensure citizens access to the Internet is guaranteed," the report, presented in Vienna, said.
The analysis was the first ever of state regulations on Internet access within the 56-member OSCE.
"Some governments already recognise access to the Internet as a human right. This trend should be supported as a crucial element of media freedom in the 21st century," the OSCE's media representative Dunja Mijatovic told journalists upon presentation of the report.
Finland and Estonia have already done so, the OSCE praised.
And since last year, Finnish citizens have a legal right to Internet access, the first country to lay down such a rule, while Norway had also taken steps in that direction, it noted.
However, seven other states admitted they had regulations allowing them to limit access to the Internet in cases of state emergencies, to defend national security and to protect public health.
At least 10 states also failed to submit any data to the OSCE for its report.
"Legislation in many countries does not recognise that freedom of expression and freedom of the media equally apply to Internet as a modern means of exercising these rights," Mijatovic noted.
As a result, the organisation offered guidelines to ensure that citizens' access to the Web was guaranteed, such as clearly wording laws, refraining from blocking content and generally respecting freedom of expression and of the media.
"We will use the study as an advocacy tool to promote speech-friendly Internet regulation in the OSCE participating States," Mijatovic said.
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