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U.N. declares internet freedom a basic human right

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 The U.N. Human Rights council unanimously backed a resolution that would penalize governments who cut off their citizens from the internet. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/GETTY IMAGES)In a ground-breaking new report, the United Nations has affirmed that all people should be allowed to express themselves freely and openly online, without fear of being disconnected.

All 47 members of the The United Nations' Human Rights council signed a resolution to this effect Thursday, unanimously backing the notion that freedom of expression online is a basic human right.

"The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one's choice," reads the report, issued by the U.N. Friday.

The same report also calls upon leaders to "promote and facilitate access to the Internet" and recognizes "the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in
accelerating progress towards development in its various forms."

The passing of this resolution is being hailed as "monumentous" by individual ambassadors.

"It's the first UN resolution that confirms that human rights in the internet realm must be protected with the same commitment as in the real world," US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donohoe told reporters after the general assembly meeting Thursday.

Tunisian ambassador Moncef Baati agreed, citing the role that social networking websites played in ousting ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Likewise, social media has played a crucial role in movements like the Arab Spring, which some reports allude inspired the formation of this week's U.N. resolution.

While passed unanimously, some countries had reservations when it came to signing the document.

Both China and Cuba, countries known for trying to limit Internet access to their citizens, expressed concern before joining the consensus.

In the end, however, all members of the committee recognized the importance of this declaration and, as's David Kravets points out, it couldn't have come a moment too soon.

This report was released on the same day that an internet-monitoring firm detected two thirds of the internet access had abruptly been knocked out in Syria - a country that is currently experiencing political unrest.

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