Open Internet Principles for Democracy: Stand Up for Free Online Speech in the Face of Oppressive Governments

Credit: Missoula Current

Over the last two decades, the internet has profoundly changed how societies operate. People around the world now access and share information at an unprecedented rate. The business community, in particular, has used the internet to increase innovation and productivity, spurring global economic growth. In addition, the internet has transformed the relationship between governments and citizens, as many people use e-democracy tools to demand increased transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, recognizing that the internet is now one of the most valued ways for people to connect, authoritarian states and declining democracies are increasingly closing the space for open internet. Governments around the world are now taking actions to quash dissent, intimidate independent voices, and prevent the open sharing of ideas in the most significant communication medium of our time. For example, pro-military forces in Myanmar used online censorship to silence independent bloggers and media. Several newspapers have also revealed Russia’s use of troll farms to promote posts of pro-Putin commentaries to harass opponents. At the same time, the new and rapidly evolving nature of the internet means that many citizens are unaware or misinformed of how their fundamental rights such as to speech, assembly, and association apply in a digital world.

To counter such oppressive actions and preserve internet openness, CIPE, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) have teamed up to launch a joint initiative to apply internet norms and principles that are essential to democratic governance. The United Nations Internet Governance Forum’s Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition (IRPC) has developed a robust set of norms and standards based on the belief that all humans are born free and equal in dignity and rights, which must be respected, protected and fulfilled in the online environment. To create a framework for internet openness for democracy advocates to fight for more democratic societies based on the IRPC principles, CIPE, NDI, and CIMA are developing A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles. The principles have gone through two rounds of in-person feedback sessions from more than 30 stakeholders from around the world, including members of economic think tanks, civic tech organizations, media organizations, and business associations.

A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles is open for public feedback until October 31, 2017, and we welcome your input. This is a call to action for everyone who believes in protecting and promoting an open and democratic internet. When commenting, please consider the following:

Accuracy: Do the definitions make sense? Is the language used to describe each principle inaccurate or incomplete in any way?

Examples: Are the examples clear? Are there other types of examples we should include that would better illustrate each principle?

Resources: If you know of a good reference document that applies to one or more of the principles, please include a link.

To share your thoughts on A Democratic Framework to Interpret Open Internet Principles, please visit

Morgan Frost is a Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE.