T +33(0)388412560                    [email protected]

Ref. DC 002(2016)

Council of Europe issues network neutrality guidelines to protect freedom of expression and privacy

Strasbourg, 13.01.2016 – The Council of Europe today called on European states to safeguard the principle of network neutrality in the development of national legal frameworks in order to ensure the protection of the right to freedom of expression and to access to information, and the right to privacy.

In a Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers representing the 47 Council of European member States, issued a set of network neutrality guidelines pointing out that Internet traffic should be treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference irrespective of the sender, receiver, content, application, service or device.

Whilst acknowledging that Internet traffic management can sometimes pursue legitimate purposes, the Committee of Ministers stresses that it can also result in blocking, discrimination or prioritisation of specific types of content, applications or services.

The following are some of the main recommendations contained in the guidelines:

-         Internet traffic management measures should only be admitted in exceptional circumstances – to comply with an order from a court or a regulatory authority; when needed to preserve network integrity and security; or to prevent or address network congestion. These measures should be non-discriminatory, transparent, maintained no longer than strictly necessary, and subject to regular review by the authorities. Internet users should be able to obtain information from Internet service providers (ISPs) about Internet traffic management and Internet speed.

-         In their policy frameworks states should ensure the accountability of ISPs for breaches of the principle of network neutrality. For their part, ISPs should put in place complaint procedures to allow Internet users to report alleged breaches. Users should have the possibility of referring the matter directly to the authorities and be entitled to a timely redress.

-         National authorities should monitor and issue public reports on Internet traffic management practices.

-         ISPs should in no case discriminate against traffic from other providers of content, applications or services which compete with their own products. Preferential treatment of traffic based on agreements between ISPs and providers of content, applications or services should only be allowed if there are sufficient safeguards for users to access, use and impart information.

-         Any traffic management practice that allows assessing the content of communications is an interference with the right to privacy and it should fully comply with article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and national legislation, and be reviewed by the authorities.

Press contact:  [email protected], Spokesperson/Media officer, Tel. +33 3 90 21 47 04