9 Conclusion

It is clear that the Internet provides unparalleled opportunities for the promotion and advancement of human rights, most centrally the right to seek, receive and impart information. The Special Rapporteur on that right has described the Internet as ‘one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.[238] He has accordingly stated that ‘facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States.’[239]

However, the Internet also provides a new (and powerful) medium through which persons can (and do) publish hateful or discriminatory comments, and intimidate and harass others, in a manner which undermines the human rights of those who are targeted.

Accordingly, societies’ use of the Internet raises challenging questions about the appropriate balancing of rights in cyberspace. Difficult questions of how to simultaneously protect potentially competing rights are not unique to the online environment. But the particular features of the Internet (its global (and therefore cross-jurisdictional) and instant reach; its creation of an effectively permanent record of communications, and the ability to communicate anonymously) present new obstacles for governments seeking to protect against harmful behaviour.

These types of issues must be addressed in order for Australia to fulfil the theoretically simple (but practically very challenging) requirement that ‘the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online’.[240]


[238] F La Rue, note 9, p 4.

[239] F La Rue, above.

[240]The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, Human Rights Council Resolution 20/8, UN Doc A/HRC/RES/20/8 (2012), para 1. At http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/RES/20/8 (viewed 27 August 2013).