What restrictions on rights are reasonable?

Decisions about the kinds of restrictions on rights that are ‘reasonable’ in society can be very difficult to make. This is probably a good thing, as it means democratic governments are less likely to make them flippantly or on matters of convenience.

The essential guideline is in Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which describes when laws may limit fundamental rights: such limits should always be proportional to the good that is being sought. For example, it should be allowable to limit free movement of people when there is an outbreak of a deadly disease, where movement would be likely to spread contact with the disease. Here, the harm caused by limiting freedom of movement is justified by the likelihood of the greater harm that might be caused by the disease if there was no limitation on movement.

New technologies, such as the Internet, satellite and digital broadcasting, offer unprecedented opportunities to promote freedom of expression and information. Action by the authorities to limit the spread of harmful or illegal content through the use of these technologies should be carefully designed to ensure that any measures taken do not inhibit the enormous positive potential of these technologies. The application of rules designed for other media, such as the print or broadcast sectors, may not be appropriate for the Internet. Obviously, limitations on such technologies will be a fine balancing act between defending the freedom of expression and information and ensuring protection from abuses (e.g. spread of child pornography).