Statement on Internews Ukraine’s policies regarding Internet freedom and protection of digital rights in Ukraine

In 2016, Internews Ukraine was one of the first NGOs to launch a new direction of its activities – the protection of the free Internet in Ukraine, implementing its first projects and advocating Internet freedom. Since then, advocacy for Internet freedom and protection of digital rights have become one of the priorities for Internews Ukraine in the implementation of the organization’s mission – introducing European values to Ukraine.

For Ukraine, in the face of armed aggression by Russia, the challenges to the free development of the Internet were due to a number of government decisions, including attempts by the Ukrainian Parliament to approve dangerous bills and presidential decrees requiring ISPs and operators to restrict access to a number of Russian and pro-Russian sites.

Internews Ukraine was among those civil society organizations that actively joined the advocacy of preventing the adoption of raw and unfinished bills that could negatively affect the functioning of the free Internet in Ukraine.In particular, bill №6688, which for national security purposes, provided questionable mechanisms for regulating the online space. The bill was eventually withdrawn.

In the situation of restricting access to Russian websites, Internews Ukraine has always been based on the priority of human rights protection and the principle of legality. The introduction of any restrictions in a democratic society must be in line with the practice of international law, and such decisions are within the competence of the judiciary. In Ukraine, such restrictions were introduced through decrees issued by the President of Ukraine on personal economic sanctions against individuals and legal entities related to Russia, including business owners. At the same time, the President of Ukraine is not directly involved in the regulation of online space, and the decisions proposed by the Ukrainian government to restrict access to online resources are legally questionable from the standpoint of the rule of law.

At the same time, the government has the right to pursue a legitimate goal - to counter Russian hybrid influence and strengthen the country's cyber defense. However, any restrictions must pass a "three-part test" in the case law of the ECHR:

  1. provide for a legitimate aim (reasonable protection of the public interest);
  2. be legal (provided by legislation and implemented through the court);
  3. be proportional (measures of influence are proportional to its purpose).

The "three-part test", as a way to check draft laws for threats to the development of the Internet in Ukraine, is the basis of the methodology of the Index of Internet Regulation – legal research carried out by Internews Ukraine into the risks posed by Ukrainian legislation. The organization analyzed the most critical draft laws in accordance with the research methodology – the draft law on the media, the initiative on disinformation, the draft law on the Security Service of Ukraine, the draft law on personal data protection. In the next few months, Internews Ukraine will research two more draft laws in cooperation with the American organization ABA-ROLI within the framework of its "Promoting Internet Freedom in Ukraine" project.

Internews Ukraine demonstrates its commitment to the principles of human rights and the free development of the Internet in Ukraine. In 2018, the NGO Internews Ukraine initiated the Declaration of a Free Internet in Ukraine, which was joined by key media outlets and human rights organizations in Ukraine advocating the free development of the Internet in Ukraine.

As of 2021, Internews Ukraine continues, despite all the challenges, to demonstrate leadership in the field of protection of digital rights and advocacy for the free development of the Internet in Ukraine.