Iceland

Iceland

Free
95
100
A Obstacles to Access 25 25
B Limits on Content 34 35
C Violations of User Rights 36 40
Last Year's Score & Status
94 100 Free

Overview

Iceland became the world’s best protector of internet freedom in 2019, registering no civil or criminal cases for online expression. Users in this island country enjoy near-universal connectivity, minimal restrictions on online content, and strong protections for their rights online. However, a sophisticated nationwide phishing scheme challenged this free environment, while data retention requirements remain in effect.

Iceland is a parliamentary democracy with a long history of upholding political rights and civil liberties. Current challenges include potentially inappropriate links between business interests and politicians, media consolidation, and conditions for immigrants.

Key Developments

June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • In March 2019, the Supreme Court upheld an appellate decision to lift an injunction on the newspaper and online site Stundin (see B5).

  • In February 2019, mobile operator Nova contracted with the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to begin testing fifth-generation (5G) network technology (see A1).

  • In October 2018, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s 2014 order to block two websites for copyright infringement (see B1).

  • A slate of reform-oriented bills concerning online freedom of expression, media, and information were drafted, putting the country on track to realize some of the aims of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (see C1 and C2).

  • Iceland experienced a sophisticated phishing attack ensnaring hundreds of users that involved script-spoofing the national police’s website (see C8).

A Obstacles to Access

Iceland is one of the most connected countries in the world. There are few obstacles to accessing the internet, the information and communication technology (ICT) market is diverse, and ICT regulation is fair and independent.

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 66

With near-ubiquitous access, Icelanders are frequent internet users. According to 2018 data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), 99 percent of the population uses the internet, and 97 percent of households have internet connections.1 Iceland’s fixed broadband penetration rate was 36.4 percent in 2018; its mobile broadband penetration rate was 125.5 percent.2

Iceland continues to enhance its ICT infrastructure. In the first half of 2018, the majority of the population using the internet was connected via DSL (52.2 percent), while a growing number connected via fiber-optic cable (47.5 percent).3 The government’s Iceland Optical Connected initiative, which aims to provide citizens with fixed-lined connections of at least 100 Mbps by 2020, has driven the development of fiber-optic cables.4

3G and 4G mobile coverage is extensive. Many mobile operators are working to develop 5G networks.5 In 2018, for example, the Post and Telecom Administration (PTA) provided mobile provider Nova a test license for a new 5G network.6 In February 2019, Nova signed an agreement with Huawei to access 5G equipment and begin testing the network.7 Public Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available throughout the country.8

In December 2018, the average fixed broadband download speed in Iceland was 156.2 Mbps, the third-fastest in the world at the time. The country’s average mobile broadband download speed was the world’s fastest at 72.77 Mbps.9

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 33

There are no major digital divides in Iceland. Internet connections are relatively affordable. Average monthly earnings in Iceland were 667,000 krona (around $5,500) in 2016, the latest year for which official statistics are available.1 The average monthly cost of a fixed broadband subscription was $76.66 in 2018, while 1 GB of mobile data cost $3.78 on average.2 According to 2017 ITU data, a monthly fixed broadband subscription cost 0.85 percent of GNI per capita, while a monthly mobile broadband subscription offering 1 GB of data cost 0.28 percent of GNI per capita.3

Nationwide, there are no significant differences in penetration rates and access in terms of geography, gender, or education levels, according to the Statistical Yearbook of Iceland.4

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 66

There are no government-imposed restrictions on connectivity in Iceland, and the government does not exercise technical or legal control over ICT infrastructure. According to Article 72 of the Electronic Communications Act, the government can “close” or “restrict” the internet “in times of hostilities” or during emergencies.1

Iceland has multiple channels connecting the country to the international internet, including connections to the international backbone through four submarine cables. Two cables connect Iceland with Greenland and Canada—Greenland Connect (2009) and the 25-year old CANTAT-3 from Canada. Two other cables connect Iceland to Europe—FARICE-1 (2003) and DANICE (2009). The government plans to add a third cable to Europe.2

The Reykjavik Internet Exchange Point (IXP), which exchanges internet traffic among internet service providers (ISPs) located in Iceland, is operated independently of the government by the country’s top-level domain registry ISNIC.

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 66

There are no obstacles for service providers to operate in Iceland, and the ICT market is competitive and relatively diverse. Service providers need to register with the PTA prior to commencing their operations, but registration is a formality.1

Of all the ISPs in 2018, Síminn held the largest market share (46.3 percent), followed by Vodafone (36.1 percent), and Hringdu (7.6 percent), with the remaining companies comprising 10 percent.2 Among mobile operators, Nova led the market (44.6 percent) followed by Síminn (29.9 percent) and Vodafone (25.2 percent).3

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 44

The PTA, an independent entity under the direction of the Ministry of Transport and Local Government, is the main regulatory body governing telecommunications. It supervises development, logistics, and fair competition in the telecommunications field. Decisions of the PTA may be appealed to the Rulings Committee for Electronic Communications and Postal Affairs, which consists of three persons appointed by the Minister of Transport and Local Government. The chair and vice chair of the Rulings Committee must meet the same qualifications that apply to Supreme Court judges. They, along with the third member, are appointed to four-year terms.1 The Rulings Committee’s decision may in turned be appealed in court.

The Icelandic Competition Authority (ICA) is an independent administrative body that oversees mergers, acquisitions, and other moves in the ICT market.2 It is composed of three board members appointed by the Minister for Industries and Innovation, who then select a director.

B Limits on Content

Access to information and online communication are generally free from manipulation and government interference. Digital platforms continue to serve as tools for mobilization and civic engagement.

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 56

Political, social, and religious websites are not blocked in Iceland. Social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and international blog hosting services are freely available and used by a large part of the population. However, some websites are blocked for hosting copyrighted content.

In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Iceland upheld the 2014 Reykjavík District Court decision that ordered ISPs Hringdu and Vodafone to block the file-sharing website the Pirate Bay and the largest Icelandic torrent website Deildu.1 The court order came after the music rights group Composers Rights Society of Iceland (STEF) and Iceland’s motion picture association SMAIS reported the websites to police in 2013 for copyright infringement and pirated material. The Supreme Court later ruled that only STEF could seek an injunction. In 2015, it was reported that all major ISPs in Iceland had agreed to block access to the sites following the court order, though proxy servers to circumvent the block were widely accessible.2

Pornography in general is illegal in Iceland,3 although the ban is not strongly enforced, and online pornography is neither blocked nor specifically banned.4

ISPs in Iceland filter websites containing child sexual abuse imagery. Icelandic ISPs collaborate with Barnaheill – Save the Children Iceland, a local NGO focused on curbing child abuse, and participate in the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) project, which solicits reports of illegal content.5

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 44

There were no public reports of the government ordering the removal of content during the coverage period of this report. According to the most recent transparency reports from Facebook and Google, the government did not issue any takedown requests in 2018.1

Content is sometimes removed under the right to be forgotten. During the coverage period, Google de-indexed 190 URLs in Iceland,2 while in the latter half of 2018, Microsoft de-indexed one URL.3

ISNIC, Iceland’s main domain registrar, rarely closes domains based on a site’s content. However, ISNIC acted after the neo-Nazi website “The Daily Stormer” appeared with an .is domain name in 2017.4 The website reportedly lost its Icelandic web address based on a technicality, as its publisher failed to provide accurate registration information such as proof of identity and address.5

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 44

In general, legal restrictions on the internet and digital content are transparent, proportionate, and subject to judicial oversight. There are no specific laws mandating the blocking of websites or the removal of content.1 When websites have been blocked or content has been removed, it has usually been done by court order pursuant to civil or criminal law.

Chapter V of Icelandic Law No. 30/2002 establishes a system of takedown notices for online content that violates the law, in accordance with the Directive 2000/31/EC (the E-Commerce Directive) of the European Parliament.2 The Ministry of Transport and Local Government is responsible for handling matters related to online content, and there is judicial oversight over the appeals process for disputing content removal.3

Under Iceland’s Data Protection Act, the country’s Data Protection Authority may administratively order the deletion of content that violates the right to privacy, e.g.4

ISPs and content hosts are not held legally liable for the content that they host or transmit. However, according to Icelandic law, domain registrants are responsible for ensuring that the use of their domains are within the limits of the law.5 Claims regarding intellectual property rights are handled by the Icelandic Patent Office, which is dependent on international cooperation, and Iceland is party to a number of international agreements in this field. Moreover, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Iceland has adapted legislation to the provisions of TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). Furthermore, the Agreement on the European Economic Area has led to several legislative amendments in Iceland that align with the directives and regulations of the European Union (EU).

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 44

Self-censorship is not a widespread problem online, though, some degree of self-censorship is the news media has been reported in the past.1

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 44

Government or partisan manipulation of online content is not a major issue.

In March 2019, the Supreme Court upheld an October 2018 appellate decision to lift an injunction that prevented specific reporting by the newspaper and online news portal Stundin.1 In October 2017, two weeks before parliamentary elections, Glitnir Bank, which failed during the 2008 financial crisis, secured a legal injunction preventing Stundin from reporting on the bank’s links with then-Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. Stundin then fought the injunction in court, but it remained in effect through the elections.

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 33

There are no economic or regulatory limitations on publishing content online. EU regulations on net neutrality and equal access to the internet were implemented as an amendment to Article 41 to the Electronic Communications Act in May 2018.1

  • 1. Email interview with Senior Advisor at the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, April 2, 2019 and email interview with the Department of Legislative Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office, April 8, 2019; https://www.althingi.is/altext/stjt/2018.041.html
B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 44

Iceland has a vibrant digital sphere, and almost all traditional media, including print, radio, and television, offer versions of their content online. The use of social media platforms is higher in Iceland than in any other country in the European Economic Area (EEA).1

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 66

Digital tools are widely used for social, political, and civic activism.

An online platform created in February 2018 has allowed individuals to easily provide their input on draft laws.1 Since the platform’s launch, approximately 300 draft laws, regulations, and policy papers have been published for consultation, generating over 3,000 open responses from stakeholders and members of the general public.2

In the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008, social media served as a vital platform for citizens to demand an extensive review of the country’s constitution.3 A 25-member council consisting of ordinary residents helped draft a new constitution and worked through sixteen versions in four months based on 16,000 comments from users across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.4 The draft constitution has been stalled in parliament since 2012.5

  • 1. Email interview with the Director of the Department of Legislative Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, February 3, 2018.
  • 2. Email interview with the Director of the Department of Legislative Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, April 8, 2019.
  • 3. Robert Robertson, “Voters in Iceland back new constitution, more resource control,” Reuters, October 21, 2012, http://reut.rs/Myiq8g
  • 4. “A Proposal for a New Constitution for the Republic of Iceland”, drafted by Stjórnlagaráð, a Constitutional Council, appointed by an Althingi resolution, March 24, 2011, http://bit.ly/1gFFBEX
  • 5. Julia Mahncke, “Iceland’s grassroots constitution on thin ice,” Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2013, http://bit.ly/XmC9Hj

C Violations of User Rights

Iceland has a strong tradition of protecting freedom of expression online. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative seeks to develop legal frameworks for protecting journalists, bloggers, and whistleblowers from illegitimate prosecutions or harassment, yet the effort has stalled in recent years. Individuals are rarely prosecuted for social or political content posted online, though libel laws remain a concern.

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 66

Freedom of expression is protected under Article 73 of the constitution and by the country’s independent judiciary.1 The Icelandic Media Law, which came into effect in 2011, established several legal protections for journalists that extend to the online sphere, including protection of anonymous sources and editorial independence from owners of media service providers.2

In recent years, the government has pursued several initiatives to enhance internet freedom. In 2010, the Icelandic parliament approved a resolution—the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative—which articulated the country’s intention to become a global “safe haven” offering legal protection, including from “libel tourism,”3 to journalists, publishers, and whistleblowers.4 To implement this resolution, the non-profit International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) was founded.5 The IMMI’s work, however, has been stalled in recent years.

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 34

Despite strong protections for free speech, Iceland criminalizes certain online activities under its Penal Code. Both defamation and insult are criminal offenses subject to fines or prison sentences of up to one year.1 Article 233(A) of the Penal Code also prescribes two years of imprisonment for publicly denigrating a person or group on the basis of their “nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”2

In a positive change, blasphemy was repealed in 2015 as a criminal offence under Article 125 of the Penal Code. It had carried penalties of fines or imprisonment for up to three months.3

According to Article 51 of the Media Law, journalists cannot be held responsible for potentially libelous quotes from sources, but they can be held responsible for libel in their own content.4

Other legislative efforts are ongoing. In March 2018, the prime minister appointed an expert committee tasked with improving legislation concerning freedom of expression, media, and information, in an effort to restart the Iceland Modern Media Initiative.5 The committee reviewed earlier bills and drafted new ones in line with its mandate. The committee delivered five bills to the government in September 2018 (aimed at reducing compensation for defamations claims, narrowing the definition of criminal hate speech, narrowing ISPs’ intermediary liability, protecting civil servants’ freedom of expression, and removing data retention requirements) and four additional bills in February 2019 (concerning freedom of information, whistleblower protections, injunctions on publication, and amending the Media Law regarding the responsibility of journalists). All were presented for consultation online.6

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 66

Internet users are periodically prosecuted but rarely penalized for their online activities. This year saw no civil or criminal cases for online expression.

In February 2018, the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the Icelandic Supreme Court was wrong to dismiss a defamation claim filed by Egill Einarsson, a well-known media personality. The ECtHR found that Einarsson’s privacy rights under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights had been violated. Einarsson, who had previously expressed misogynistic views,1 had been acquitted of sexual offense charges a week before an Instagram user publicly called him a ”rapist” in a post. He lodged a defamation claim against the user, but lower courts and the Supreme Court ruled that the post was not defamatory.2 As a result of the ECtHR ruling, the government awarded Einarsson 17,500 euros ($19,445).3

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 44

The government does not place restrictions on anonymous communication. No registration is required when purchasing a SIM card.1 Users can freely use encrypted tools, and there are no laws requiring decryption or the disclosure of encryptions keys.

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 66

Users are generally free from state surveillance, which is regulated under the Telecommunications Law1 and a set rules issued in 2006.2

Iceland is part of an international surveillance network that cooperates with the activities of the “Five Eyes”—the intelligence alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.3 Following revelations in 2013 that the United States and allied intelligence agencies had been collecting and storing massive amounts of user data from global online communications, free speech activists in Iceland expressed concern that the government’s efforts to protect journalists and whistleblowers from surveillance may ultimately prove ineffective.4

C6 0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 46

Internet users are protected by a strong data protection law, although the government has set data retention requirements. In July 2018, Iceland’s Act on Data Protection and the Processing of Personal Data, which, among other things, implements the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), entered into force.1

A 2005 amendment2 to the Electronic Communications Act of 2003 implements data retention requirements.3 The law applies to telecommunication providers and mandates the retention of user data, including browsing history, for six months.4 It also states that companies may only deliver user data in criminal cases or on matters of public safety and that such information may only be given to the police or the public prosecutor.5

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 55

Users were not subjected to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or other actors during the coverage period.

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 23

Government entities, private companies, and ordinary users are periodically subjected to cyberattacks, although there were no reports of politically-motivated attacks over the coverage period.

In October 2018, Iceland experienced one of its largest cyberattacks, with thousands of users receiving sophisticated phishing emails that prompted them to download malware from a bogus website impersonating that of the national police.1 Hundreds of people reportedly did so, compromising their bank accounts as a result.2

In May 2018, the website of Iceland’s state broadcaster, RÚV, suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, prompting administrators to redirect traffic away from the site for two hours. RÚV’s website experienced a similar attack in April 2018.3

The National Computer Security Incident Response Team (CERT-ÍS), operating within the PTA, is the national point of contact for critical cybersecurity incidents.4 In 2015, the Ministry of the Interior published an ICT security policy that aimed to increase resilience to, raise awareness about, and expand collaboration with international organizations on cybersecurity issues.5 The PTA also operates a website with cybersecurity advisories for the public.6

Country Facts

  • Freedom in the World Status

    Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    No
  • Users Arrested

    No

Previous Reports