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13.03.2017

CoE: Right of access to the internet

Gianna Iacino

On 17 January 2017, the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) decided that, the right of access to information according to art. 10 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not include a general right of access to the internet (application no: 21575/08).

The plaintiff is a prisoner in an Lithuanian prison. He tried to get access to information on how to enroll at a university to study law with a specialization in Human Rights. He wrote to the Ministry of Education and Science, explaining that he was a prisoner and therefore, could not physically attend the place of study. The Ministry referred him to its website containing all necessary information. The plaintiff – referring to the Ministry’s answer – applied for internet access with the prison authorities who dismissed his request. After an unsuccessful legal battle before national courts, the plaintiff applied to the ECtHR, claiming a violation of his right of access to information according to art. 10 ECHR.

The Court decided that art. 10 ECHR does not impose a general obligation to provide access to the internet for prisoners. In the present case, the plaintiff’s rights were violated. However, in the circumstances of the present case, since access to information relating to education is granted under Lithuanian law, the Court was ready to accept that the restriction of access to the Internet site to which the Ministry referred the plaintiff in reply to his request to provide information constituted an interference with the right to receive information. The Court was not persuaded that sufficient reasons had been put forward in the present case to justify the interference with the plaintiff’s right to receive information. Moreover, having regard to the consequences of that interference for the plaintiff, the Lithuanian Government’s objection that the plaintiff had not suffered significant disadvantage had to be dismissed.

The Court concluded that the interference with the applicant’s right to receive information, in the specific circumstances of the present case, could not be regarded as having been necessary in a democratic society.

Gianna Iacino, LL.M., works at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brussels.

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The decision is available in English language.

 





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