Columbia Global Freedom of Expression seeks to contribute to the development of an integrated and progressive jurisprudence and understanding on freedom of expression and information around the world.  It maintains an extensive database of international case law. This is its newsletter dealing with recent developments  in the field.

Community Highlights and Recent News

● Agnes Callamard, Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, presented the keynote speech at the Raif Badawi Award For Courageous Journalists 2020, which recognized Yemeni journalist and lawyer Abdul-Rahman Al-Zbib this year. Regarding his struggle to fight for freedom of expression in Yeman, Callamard noted that “Against the powerful, the despots, the populists and the cowards who may want us to retreat, Abdul Rahman is daring us to stand up and stand out. To do more than defend and resist. But to continue to dream, to build, to evolve, to develop.”
● The Global Network Initiative (GNI) has issued a policy brief, “Content Regulation and Human Rights: Analysis and Recommendations,” which is the result of months of multistakeholder analysis by GNI’s diverse, expert membership. Using human rights principles as its lens, the brief analyzes over 20 recently enacted or proposed content regulation initiatives from around the world. The report includes recommendations and guidance for how to develop laws and regulations that address harmful content and conduct online while preserving freedom of expression and privacy.
●  Global Freedom of Expression expert Nani Jansen Reventlow presented the keynote address at the 2020 Anthropology + Technology Conference titled “Decolonizing Digital Rights. Why it matters and where do we start.” By way of examples from health tech, fintech and smart cities Jansen Reventlow demonstrated how systemic biases and related harms are replicated in the online word, for which she offered a range of remedies but ultimately called for structural changes in the field of digital rights.


Decisions this Week

United States
Machovec v. Palm Beach County
Decision Date: July 27, 2020
The Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Florida, United States ruled that a Palm Beach County order requiring the wearing of face coverings did not violate the right to privacy. The order had been enacted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and sought to protect public health by limiting the spread of the virus. A group of Palm Beach residents challenged the order, arguing that it constituted medical treatment and violated their rights to privacy and due process and sought a temporary injunction preventing its enforcement. The Court held that there was no infringement of any constitutional right by the Mask Ordinance, that there was clear “rational basis” based on the protection of public health, and that the interest of public health outweighed the minimal harm to rights triggered by the requirement to wear a face covering in public.

Alasaad v. McAleenan
Decision Date: November 12, 2019
The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that non-cursory searches and seizures of international travellers’ electronic devices at U.S. ports of entry, without “reasonable suspicion” of criminal conduct, violate the Fourth Amendment. The case was brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched at the U.S. border without cause or a warrant. The Court held that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures require federal authorities to have at least a “reasonable suspicion” that the electronic devices contain contraband. U.S. District Judge Denise Casper reasoned that the substantial personal privacy interests implicated by the search of electronic devices falls outside the border search exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. However, the Court rejected the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim and their argument in favour of a higher standard of “probable cause”, rather than “reasonable suspicion.”

Okedara v. Attorney General
Decision Date: February 28, 2019
The Court of Appeal in Lagos dismissed a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 24(1) of the Cybercrime Act, 2015 on the ground that it lacked merit. Affirming the judgment of Buba J. of the Federal High Court, the Court disagreed with the Appellant that the provision was vague, overbroad and ambiguous and threatened his rights to freedom of expression under Section 39 of the Constitution and was not within the permissible restrictions pursuant to Section 45 of the Constitution. Instead the Court of Appeal found Section 24(1) of the Cybercrime Act to be clear and explicit and not in conflict with the provisions of Sections 36(12), 39 and 45 of the 1999 Constitution.

Post Scriptum

● United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech: Detailed Guidance on Implementation for United Nations Field Presences. The Guidance, authored by Sejal Parmar, is a resource tool for United Nations field presences on implementing the United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech. It defines hate speech under the strategy, and offers action points and specific recommendations for implementing the thirteen commitments of the Strategy.

● Internet Infrastructure and Human Rights: A Reading List. The Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society designed this list for civil society actors, technologists, policy makers, and users who wish to learn about the inner workings of the Internet infrastructure and the application of its governance as a site of advocacy. In addition to an introduction to the topic and a curated collection of readings, this resource also includes an index of civil society organizations that are actively advocating for a public interest Internet infrastructure.

This newsletter is reproduced with the permission of Global Freedom of Expression.  For an archive of previous newsletters, see here.