Freedom of expression and the right to receive and impart information and its corollary, freedom of the media, are indispensable for genuine democracy and democratic processes. Through their scrutiny and in the exercise of their watchdog role, the media provide checks and balances to the exercise of authority. The right to freedom of expression and information as well as freedom of the media must be guaranteed in full respect of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, hereinafter “the Convention”). The right to freedom of assembly and association is equally essential for people’s participation in the public debate and their exercise of democratic citizenship, and it must be guaranteed in full respect of Article 11 of the Convention. All Council of Europe member States have undertaken, in Article 1 of the Convention, to “secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms” protected by the Convention (without any online/offline distinction).
For almost a decade, the Iranian regime and netizen activists have been engaged in a veritable war of attrition over freedom of information on the Internet. With at least tacit support from information technology businesses — whose interests are adversely affected by government controls and restrictions — activists have sought to exploit the Internet in order to share information and voice dissent. In turn, the authorities have been implementing plans to manage cyber activity by taking ownership of Internet infrastructure and by promoting the presence of their supporters and messages in cyberspace, while justifying their efforts on the grounds of morality and national security. Neither netizen activists nor the government are likely to win the battle over information flows in the near term, in part because of financial considerations and evolving technologies.