A few days ago, digital rights advocates and civil society groups gathered together in Manila and approved the Intermediary Liability Principles. The principles were officially launched at the Rightscon Southeast Asia in Manila.
The document sets out safeguards for content restriction on the Internet with the goal of protecting users' rights, including "freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to privacy." A set of general principles is accompanied by sub-principles and a background paper qualifying some of the terminology and statements included in the principles. The six main principles are summarized below:
- Intermediaries should be shielded by law from liability for third-party content.
- Content must not be required to be restricted without an order by a judicial authority.
- Requests for restrictions of content must be clear, be unambiguous, and follow due process.
- Laws and content restriction orders and practices must comply with the tests of necessity and proportionality.
- Laws and content restriction policies and practices must respect due process.
- Transparency and accountability must be built in to laws and content restriction policies and practices.
The principles aim at creating a digital environment where intermediaries are in the best position for protecting human rights. They set high goals in order to minimize any "invisible handshake" between corporate and governmental power. Principle No. 2, especially, takes an extreme position in this direction, opposing the increasing emergence of administrative schemes for enforcing intermediary liability online. As also the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression highlighted multiple times, the Manila Principles recognize that only courts of law should be entitled to come up with that delicate ballancing of rights that online content removal entails.
The text of the principles, subprinciples and background paper is available on a dedicated website here. The Manila Principles are open to endorsement.