The Oxford Statement on The Regulation of Information Operations and Activities

Reiterating the commitment expressed in the First, Second and Third Oxford Statements to clarify rules of international law applicable in the use of information and communication technologies;

Considering that information operations and activities conducted by States or non-State actors through information and communications technologies have the  potential to cause harm to both States and individuals, in light of their ability to reach a very wide audience instantly as exemplified by false claims surrounding COVID-19 treatments, vaccines, masks and social distancing;  false or distorted claims directed at manipulating electorates or altering perceptions of climate change and technological developments; and by the incitement of violence, especially during armed conflict and periods of instability;

Understanding that the expression ‘information operation[s] and activities’ encompasses any coordinated or individual deployment of digital resources for cognitive purposes to change or reinforce attitudes or behaviours of the targeted audience;

Such information operations and activities include the dissemination of disinformation, misinformation, hate speech, other types of harmful speech and methods for their dissemination;

Recognizing that, as noted by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, in their 2017 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda, "disinformation and propaganda are often designed and implemented so as to mislead a population, as well as to interfere with the public’s right to know and the right of individuals to seek and receive, as well as to impart, information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, protected under international legal guarantees of the rights to freedom of expression and to hold opinions" and that "some forms of disinformation and propaganda may harm individual reputations and privacy, or incite to violence, discrimination or hostility against identifiable groups in society";

Emphasizing that, as referenced in Principles 11 and 12 of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility to respect the human rights of individuals, and affirming that this responsibility extends to the impact of information operations and activities conducted using their services;

We agree that:

  1. International law applies to all conduct carried out through information and communications technologies, including information operations and activities.

 

  1. States must refrain from conducting information operations and activities when they would violate the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention in a State’s internal or external affairs.

 

  1. States must refrain from engaging in, supporting or allowing forms of speech within their jurisdiction that are prohibited under international law, such as any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. To enforce this duty, States must prohibit by law information operations and activities amounting to such forms of speech.

 

  1. States must refrain from engaging in, or supporting, any other information operation or activity that violates the rights of individuals within their jurisdiction, such as their right to life, health, private life, freedoms of thought and opinion, freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, right to vote and participate in public affairs.

 

  1. States must take measures to protect the human rights of individuals within their jurisdiction from violation by information operations or activities carried out by other States and non-state actors. Where such protective measures interfere with human rights, they must be in accordance with applicable legal requirements, such as legitimate purpose, legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination.

 

  1. In regulating information operations and activities, States must not unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression and other rights guaranteed under international law.

 

  1. In addressing the impact of information operations, States must ensure that information and technology companies are able to operate their services consistently with the human rights of their individual users.

 

  1. The conduct of information operations or activities in armed conflict is subject to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law (IHL). These rules include, but are not limited to, the duty to respect and ensure respect for international humanitarian law, which entails a prohibition against encouraging violations of IHL; the duties to respect and to protect specific actors or objects, including medical personnel and facilities and humanitarian personnel and consignments; and other rules on the protection of persons who do not or no longer participate in hostilities, such as civilians and prisoners of war.

 

  1. Conducting information operations or activities will amount to international crimes, such as genocide, including direct and public incitement thereto, war crimes and crimes against humanity, where the elements of those crimes are fulfilled.

 

  1. The application of the aforementioned rules of international law is without prejudice to any and all other applicable rules of international law that provide protections against information operations or activities.

 

The Statement's current signatories are reproduced below. International lawyers who wish to append their name to the statement are invited to express their interest via email to oxfordcyberstatement@gmail.com.

List of Signatories