Iceland remained the world’s best protector of internet freedom during the coverage period. Users enjoy near-universal connectivity, minimal restrictions on online content, and strong protections for their rights online. However, several cyberattacks targeted government websites and media outlets during the coverage period.
Iceland is a parliamentary democracy with a long history of upholding political rights and civil liberties. However, links between elected representatives and business interests remain a concern, as does the concentration of private media ownership.
- In January 2023, Iceland’s Data Protection Authority ordered Google to remove several URLs, citing the “right to be forgotten,” which is enshrined in Iceland’s Act on Data Protection and the Processing of Personal Data (see B2 and C6).
- People continued to use social media platforms for social and political activism, as users organized protests on Facebook against government inaction on increased interest rates and rising inflation (see B8).
- In May 2023, Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management declared a “state of uncertainty” due to a series of cyberattacks that occurred ahead of the Council of Europe Summit (see C8).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||6.006 6.006|
With near-ubiquitous access, Icelanders are frequent internet users. According to 2021 data from Eurostat, 98 percent of households have internet connections.1 As of January 2023, Iceland’s internet penetration rate stood at 99 percent and there were 488,700 mobile connections, which is equivalent to a mobile internet penetration rate of 130.6 percent.2 Public Wi-Fi hotspots are widely available throughout the country.3
Iceland continues to enhance its information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. In the first half of 2020, the majority of the population using the internet was connected via fiber-optic cable (72.7 percent), while a shrinking number remained connected via digital subscriber line (DSL) technology (27.3 percent).4 The government’s Iceland Optical Connected initiative, which aimed to provide citizens with fixed-lined connections of at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) by 2020,5 has driven the development of fiber-optic cables. In May 2020, the government announced that it had allocated ISK 400 million ($2.9 million) toward realizing this goal.6 In March 2021, the government announced the final phase of the Iceland Optical Connected initiative, where a further ISK 180 million ($1.3 million) will be available as grants to local municipalities.7
Third-generation (3G), 4G, and 5G mobile coverage is extensive.8 At least three mobile service providers received permission from the Post-og Fjarskiptastofa (Post and Telecom Administration, or PTA) to develop 5G networks.9 In May 2020, Nova became the first mobile operator in Iceland to offer 5G service to its customers.10 According to a 2021 government report on telecommunications, approximately 50 percent of the population has access to 5G service.11
Speeds are fast and reliable. In 2023, the average broadband download speed was 229.35 Mbps, according to the analytics company Cable.12 The PTA’s 2021 data show that 97.9 percent of fixed broadband internet subscribers enjoy advertised download speeds of 30 Mbps or more.13
Winter storms sometimes lead to power outages in more remote parts of the country that may temporarily disrupt connectivity for people living in these areas. An unusually powerful storm in December 2019 temporarily disrupted telecommunications in parts of the Eastern, Northeastern, Northwestern, and Westfjords regions.14
- 1Eurostat, European Union, “Digital economy and society: Data: Database,” accessed September 2023, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/digital-economy-and-society/data/data…
- 2Simon Kemp, “Digital 2023: Iceland,” Data Reportal, February 15, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-iceland
- 3“Internet and Wi-Fi Access in Iceland,” Nordic Visitor, accessed September 2023, https://iceland.nordicvisitor.com/travel-guide/information/internet-acc…
- 4Electronic Communications Office of Iceland, “Statistics for the Icelandic Telecommunications Market for 2021,” accessed September 2023, https://www.fjarskiptastofa.is/library?itemid=46bd62e9-4c32-4959-a01c-1…
- 5Post and Telecom Administration, “Annual Report 2017,” accessed September 2023, https://www.pfs.is/library/Skrar/English/About-PTA/PTA_Annual_Report_20…
- 6Government of Iceland, “Ísland ljóstengt: Aukaúthlutun 2020 og áhugi kannaður vegna lokaúthlutunar 2021 [Iceland connected to the light: Additional allocation in 2020 and interest surveyed for the final allocation in 2021],” May 8, 2020, https://www.stjornarradid.is/efst-a-baugi/frettir/stok-frett/2020/05/08…
- 7Government of Iceland, “Ísland ljóstengt: Þrettán svetarfélögum stendur til boða samtals 180 milljónir í styrki [Iceland connected to the light: Thirteen municipalities can apply for a total of 180 million in grants],” March 3, 2021, https://www.stjornarradid.is/efst-a-baugi/frettir/stok-frett/2021/03/12…
- 8Anasia D'mello, “Síminn and Ericsson ramp up move towards 5G and massive IoT in Iceland,” VanillaPlus, May 3, 2019, https://www.vanillaplus.com/2019/05/03/46535-siminn-ericsson-ramp-move-…
- 9“PTA awards 5G spectrum in 3.6GHz band until December 2021,” CommsUpdate, May 1, 2020, https://www.commsupdate.com/articles/2020/05/01/pta-awards-5g-spectrum-…
- 10Margrét Tryggvadóttir, “5G hjá Nova er komið í loftið! [Nova's 5G has been launched!],” Nova, May 5, 2020, https://www.nova.is/dansgolfid/5g-hja-nova-er-komid-i-loftid
- 11Government of Iceland: Ministry of Infrastructure, “Grænbók um fjarskipti,” accessed September 2023, https://www.stjornarradid.is/library/02-Rit--skyrslur-og-skrar/Graenbok…
- 12Cable.co.uk., “Worldwide Broadband Speed League 2023,” accessed September 2023, https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/speed/worldwide-speed-league/
- 13Electronic Communications Office of Iceland, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market 2021,” May 2022, https://www.fjarskiptastofa.is/library/?itemid=d9387544-e2ec-403e-a84f-…
- 14Kristín Sigurðardóttir, “Fordæmalaus truflun á fjarskiptasambandi [Unprecedented disruption of electronic communications],” RÚV, December 11, 2019, https://www.ruv.is/frett/fordaemalaus-truflun-a-fjarskiptasambandi
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||3.003 3.003|
Internet connections are relatively affordable and there are no major digital divides in Iceland. According to Cable, the average monthly cost of a fixed broadband subscription was $78.04 in 2022, while 1 gigabyte (GB) of mobile data cost $1.01 on average.1 The cost of a fixed broadband subscription has increased by approximately 20 percent since 2019. However, the cost of 1 GB of mobile data has decreased by approximately 30 percent since 2019. According to 2020 International Telecommunication Union (ITU) data, a monthly high-speed fixed broadband subscription cost 1.2 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita, while a monthly mobile subscription offering 1.5 GB of data cost 0.4 percent of GNI per capita.2
Historically, there have been no significant differences in penetration rates and access in terms of geography, gender, or education levels.3
In May 2022, the country’s three major mobile providers (Nova, Vodafone, and Síminn) signed a cooperation agreement with Iceland’s crisis line (112) and the government to increase mobile service in areas with low levels of connectivity, including Ölkelda, Hörgárdalur, and Dalatangi. The government announced it would fund the installation of at least 12 cell phone towers, which will provide either 4G or 5G coverage, with 30 additional towers being considered at the time of the announcement.4
- 1Cable.co.uk., “Global broadband pricing league table 2023,” accessed September 2023, https://www.cable.co.uk/broadband/deals/worldwide-price-comparison/, Cable.co.uk, “Worldwide mobile data pricing 2022,” accessed September 2023, https://www.cable.co.uk/mobiles/worldwide-data-pricing/
- 2International Telecommunications Union, “Affordability of ICT services,” accessed April 2023, https://www.itu.int/itu-d/reports/statistics/2021/11/15/affordability-o…
- 3Statistics Iceland, “Statistical Yearbook of Iceland 2015,” accessed September 2023, https://www.statice.is/media/49296/landshagir2015.pdf
- 4“Better connections off the beaten track,” Iceland Monitor, May 19, 2022, https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2022/05/19/better_connections_o…
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||6.006 6.006|
There are no government-imposed restrictions on connectivity in Iceland, and the government does not exercise technical or legal control over the 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. Three other cables connect Iceland to Europe: FARICE-1 (2003), DANICE (2009), and IRIS (2023). Construction of IRIS, a high-speed submarine cable connecting Iceland and Ireland, began in 2022 and became fully operational in March 2023.2
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.
- 1Government of Iceland, Ministry of Transport and Local Government, “Electronic Communications Act No. 81, 26 March 2003,” January 16, 2018, https://www.government.is/Publications/Legislation/Lex/?newsid=86c9a6a9…
- 2“IRIS is ready for service from March 1st,” FARICE, March 16, 2023, https://farice.is/iris-is-ready-for-service-from-march-1sr/
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||6.006 6.006|
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
According to 2021 PTA data on the broadband market, Síminn held the largest market share (44.8 percent), followed by Vodafone (27.4 percent), Nova (15.6 percent), and Hringdu (9.3 percent).2 Among mobile operators, Síminn led the market in terms of total subscriptions (36.4 percent), followed by Nova (33 percent), and Vodafone (26.4 percent).3
- 1Post and Telecom Administration, “Skráningar og leyfi [Registration and permits],” accessed September 2023, https://www.pfs.is/fjarskipti/skraningar-og-leyfi/
- 2Electronic Communications Office of Iceland, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market 2021,” March 20, 2022, https://www.fjarskiptastofa.is/library/?itemid=46bd62e9-4c32-4959-a01c-….
- 3Electronic Communications Office of Iceland, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market 2021,” March 20, 2022, https://www.fjarskiptastofa.is/library/?itemid=46bd62e9-4c32-4959-a01c-….
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||4.004 4.004|
The PTA, an independent entity under 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. PTA decisions may be appealed to the Rulings Committee for Electronic Communications and Postal Affairs, which consists of three people appointed by the Minister of Transport and Local Government. They, along with the third member of the Rulings Committee, are appointed to four-year terms.1 The Rulings Committee’s decisions may 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; the board members then select a director.
- 1Post and Telecom Administration, “Rulings Committee,” accessed September 2023, https://www.pfs.is/english/about-pta/rulings-committee/
- 2“The Competition Authority,” Samkeppni, accessed September 2023, https://en.samkeppni.is/competition_authority/
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||5.005 6.006|
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 a 2014 Reykjavík District Court decision that ordered ISPs Hringdu and Vodafone to block the file-sharing website 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. 2 An agreement was later reached between rights holders and ISPs that gave ISPs the authority to block any new links related to Pirate Bay and Deildu without additional court orders.3 It is not known how many links were blocked under this agreement.
Pornography in general is illegal in Iceland,4 although the ban is not strongly enforced, and online pornography is neither blocked nor specifically banned.5 Legislation was proposed in 2022 to end the current ban on pornography.6
ISPs in Iceland filter websites containing child sexual abuse imagery. Icelandic ISPs collaborate with Barnaheill—Save the Children Iceland, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO) focused on curbing child abuse, and participate in the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) project, which solicits reports of illegal content.7
- 1“Hæstiréttur staðfestir lögbann [The Supreme Court upholds the injunction],” Morgunbladid, October 18, 2018, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2018/10/18/haestirettur_stadfestir_l…; “Iceland court orders Vodafone to block Pirate Bay,” RT, October 17, 2014, http://bit.ly/1El2WIc
- 2Alma Ómarsdóttir, “Loka á deilisíður [Block sections],” RÚV, September 16, 2019, https://www.ruv.is/frett/loka-a-deilisidur
- 3Brynjólfur Þór Guðmundsson, “Gangi ekki upp nema of langt sé gengið [Do not walk unless you walk too far],” RÚV, September 16, 2015, https://www.ruv.is/frett/gangi-ekki-upp-nema-of-langt-se-gengid
- 4“Why does liberal Iceland want to ban online pornography,” The Economist, April 24, 2013, https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2013/04/23/why-does-li…
- 5Andie Sophia Fontaine, “Iceland’s Most Frivolous Legislation: The Laws That Would Have Been, But Weren’t,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, October 5, 2017, https://grapevine.is/mag/2017/10/05/icelands-most-frivolous-legislation…
- 6Alþingi, “Frumvarp til laga [Bill to the law],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/153/s/0033.html
- 7“Home,” INHOPE, accessed September 2023, https://www.inhope.org/EN
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||4.004 4.004|
In general, online content is not subject to deletion, and government requests to remove online content are rare.
Between January and June 2022, however, Facebook reported receiving a request to restrict access to one page or group. Between July and December 2021, the company restricted access to 91 items in Iceland for violating local law. Google reported receiving one government request to remove content between July and December 2022 for privacy and security reasons.1
Content is sometimes removed under the “right to be forgotten,” which is enshrined under Article 17 of Iceland’s Act on Data Protection and the Processing of Personal Data (see C6).2 In January 2023, Iceland’s Data Protection Authority ordered Google to remove several URLs linking to articles regarding an Icelandic man’s previous employment history, citing the “right to be forgotten.” Google had initially denied the request when the man first approached the company.3 During the coverage period, Google de-indexed 303 URLs in Iceland.4 Microsoft has reportedly not de-indexed any URLs in recent years.5
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 2017.6 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.7 In 2022, ISNIC restricted the domain of kiwifarms.is, a website where users have reportedly made transphobic remarks.8
- 1Facebook Transparency, “Iceland,” accessed May 2022, https://transparency.facebook.com/content-restrictions/country/IS; Google Transparency Report, “Government requests to remove content: Iceland,” accessed May 2022, https://transparencyreport.google.com/government-removals/by-country/IS.
- 2“Data Protection Laws of the World: Iceland,” DPL Piper, accessed September 2023, https://www.dlapiperdataprotection.com/system/modules/za.co.heliosdesig…
- 3Darren Adam, “Google made to give Icelander right to be forgotten,” RUV, January 11, 2023, https://www.ruv.is/english/2023-01-11-google-made-to-give-icelander-rig…; Nadine Daher, “Icelandic regulator defends right to be forgotten in Google case,” Global Data Review, January 13, 2023, https://globaldatareview.com/article/icelandic-regulator-defends-right-…
- 4Google Transparency Report, “Requests to delist content under European privacy law,” accessed June 2023, https://transparencyreport.google.com/eu-privacy/overview?delisted_urls…
- 5Microsoft, “Government Requests for Content Removal Report,” accessed May 2022, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/corporate-responsibility/government-con…
- 6“Neo-Nazi site finds home in Iceland,” BBC, September 19, 2017, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-41323726
- 7Kelly Weill, “Will Daily Stormer Founder Andrew Anglin Lose His Website on the Lam?”, The Daily Beast, September 22, 2017, https://www.thedailybeast.com/will-daily-stormer-founder-andrew-anglin-…
- 8Karlotta Líf Sumarliðadóttir, “Lénum sjaldan lokað á grundvelli innihalds á vef,” mbl.is, September 10, 2022, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2022/09/10/lenum_sjaldan_lokad_a_gru…
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||4.004 4.004|
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 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, for example, violates the right to privacy.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 is 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; Iceland is party to several international agreements in this field.
In May 2021, the parliament adopted Cabinet Bill 1031, which empowers the courts to order the closure of .is domains involved in criminal activities or in disseminating illegal material.6
- 1Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, “Comparative Study on Blocking, Filtering and Take-Down of Illegal Internet Content,” December 20, 2015, https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?d…
- 2Stjornarradid, “Merchants and Trade - Act No 30/2002 on Electronic Commerce and other Electronic Services,” accessed September 2023, https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/atvinnuvegaraduneyti-media/media/Acr…
- 3Government of Iceland, “The Ministry of Transport and Local Government,” accessed September 2023, https://www.government.is/ministries/ministry-of-transport-and-local-go…
- 4Swiss Institute of Comparative Law, “Comparative Study on Blocking, Filtering and Take-Down of Illegal Internet Content,” December 20, 2015, https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?d…
- 5ISNIC, “Domain Rules,” accessed September 2023, https://www.isnic.is/en/domain/rules.
- 6Alþingi, “Frumvarp til laga [Bill to the law],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/150/s/1031.html; Alþingi, “Lög um Íslensk landshöfuðlén [Law on Icelandic national domain],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/151/s/1464.html
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||4.004 4.004|
Self-censorship is not a widespread problem online, though some degree of self-censorship in the news media has been reported in the past.1
- 1Alex Baumhardt, “Who Are Iceland’s Shadow Editors?,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, August 11, 2015, https://grapevine.is/mag/interview/2015/08/11/who-are-icelands-shadow-e…
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||4.004 4.004|
Government or partisan manipulation of online content is not a major issue.
In April 2020, the government set up a working group “to map the manifestations and extent of information chaos in connection with COVID-19 in Iceland and to make proposals for measures to combat it.”1 A subsequent memo suggested that the working group would be involved in evaluating information about COVID-19 in the mass media and on social media platforms.2 The move drew criticism from politicians and pundits, who questioned its necessity and argued that it could lead to censorship.3 The working group did not appear to seek to manipulate online information during the coverage period, as indicated by the report it released in October 2020 on information sources about COVID-19 (see B7).4
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 site Stundin.5 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.
- 1“Vinnuhópur gegn upplýsingaóreiðu [Working group against information chaos],” Stjornarradid, April 20, 2020, https://www.stjornarradid.is/efst-a-baugi/frettir/stok-frett/2020/04/20…
- 2Stjornarradid, “Verkáætlun vinnuhóps um upplýsingaóreiðu og covid-19 [Working program of the information crazy and covid-19],” accessed September 2023, https://www.stjornarradid.is/library/03-Verkefni/Almannaoryggi/Thjodaro…
- 3Ásrún Brynja Ingvarsdóttir, “Furðaði mig á skipan nefndar um upplýsingaóreiðu [Wondered about the composition of the committee on information chaos],” RÚV, April 22, 2020, https://www.ruv.is/frett/2020/04/22/furdadi-sig-a-skipan-nefndar-um-upp…, Steindór Grétar Jónsson, “Samskiptastjóri VG valinn í vinnuhóp um falsfréttir [VG's communications manager elected to a working group on fake news],” Stundin, April 21, 2020, https://stundin.is/grein/11021/
- 4Stjornarradid, ” Skýrsla vinnuhóps um upplýsingaóreiðu og COVID-19 [Report by working group on misinformation and COVID-19],” October 2020, https://www.stjornarradid.is/library/01--Frettatengt---myndir-og-skrar/…
- 5Alexander Elliott, “Stundin breaks its silence,” RÚV, October 26, 2018, http://www.ruv.is/frett/stundin-breaks-its-silence, “Glitnir tapadi í Hæstarétti [Glitnir lost in the Supreme Court],” Mbl.is, March 22, 2019, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2019/03/22/glitnir_tapadi_i_haestare…
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||3.003 3.003|
There are no undue economic or regulatory limitations on publishing content online. European Union (EU) regulations on net neutrality and equal access to the internet were implemented as an amendment to Article 41 of the Electronic Communications Act in 2018.1
- 1Email 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; Alþingi, “Lög um breytingu á lögum um fjarskipti, nr. 81/2003 [Act on amendments to the Electronic Communications Act, no. 81/2003],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/stjt/2018.041.html
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||4.004 4.004|
Iceland has a vibrant digital sphere, and almost all traditional media, including print, radio, and television, offer versions of their content online. Access to online international news sources is readily available to Icelanders. In 2019, the use of social media platforms was higher in Iceland than in any other country in the European Economic Area (EEA).1
The working group on COVID-19 misinformation (see B5) found that Icelanders overwhelmingly trusted national media, health professionals, and the government’s covid.is website over social media for information about the pandemic. More than three-quarters of the over 800 people surveyed as a part of the report indicated that they had encountered misinformation about COVID-19 on social media.2
Iceland has a limited number of local news sources. In March 2023, one of Iceland’s major news outlets, Fréttablaðið, along with its television broadcast division Hringbraut, ceased publication. The outlet cited financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s (RÚV) dominance of the country’s limited advertising market, and increasing problems for small media companies to compete with foreign social media conglomerates in the advertising space as reasons for the closure.3
- 1Veronika S. Magnúsdóttir, “Notkun samfélagsmiðla mest á Íslandi [The use of social media most in Iceland],” Mbl.is, July 1, 2019, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2019/07/01/notkun_samfelagsmidla_mes…
- 2Stjornarradid, ” Skýrsla vinnuhóps um upplýsingaóreiðu og COVID-19 [Report by working group on misinformation and COVID-19],” October 2020, https://www.stjornarradid.is/library/01--Frettatengt---myndir-og-skrar/…
- 3"The publication of Fréttablaðið has ceased” Iceland Monitor, March 31, 2023, https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2023/03/31/the_publication_of_f…
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||6.006 6.006|
Digital tools, including social media platforms, are widely used for social, political, and civic activism. Demonstrations and events are frequently organized on Facebook in particular. For example, people used the platform to organize protests against the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.1 More recently, Facebook has been used to organize a series of protests aimed at criticizing government inaction on the Central Bank of Iceland’s increased interest rates in response to rising inflation and the impact this has had on local banking institutions.2
An online platform created in February 2018 has allowed individuals to easily provide their input on draft laws.3 Since the platform’s launch, hundreds of draft laws, regulations, and policy papers have been published for consultation, generating thousands of open responses from stakeholders and members of the general public.4
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.5 A 25-member council consisting of ordinary residents helped draft a new constitution and worked through 16 versions in 4 months based on 16,000 comments from users across platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.6 The draft constitution has been stalled in parliament since 2012,7 though support remains high; as of July 2021, 53 percent of people polled by Gallup supported the draft produced by the council.8
- 1“Protest against Russian invasion to Ukraine.” Facebook, February 24, 2022, https://www.facebook.com/events/329801509200308/
- 2“Mótmæli – Rísum Upp! [Protest – Rise up!] Facebook, May 13, 2023, https://www.facebook.com/events/179669248361302
- 3“Um Samráðsgátt [About the Consultation Portal],” Samráðsgátt, accessed September 2023, https://samradsgatt.island.is/um-samradsgatt/
- 4Email interview with the Director of the Department of Legislative Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, April 8, 2019.
- 5Robert Robertson, “Voters in Iceland back new constitution, more resource control,” Reuters, October 21, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iceland-referendum/voters-in-iceland…
- 6“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://stjornlagarad.is/other_files/stjornlagarad/Frumvarp-enska.pdf
- 7Julia Mahncke, “Iceland’s grassroots constitution on thin ice,” Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2013, https://www.dw.com/en/icelands-grassroots-constitution-on-thin-ice/a-16…
- 8Bjarni Rúnarsson, “Meirihluti hlynntur tillögum stjórnlagaráðs,” RÚV, July 12, 2021, https://www.ruv.is/frett/2021/07/12/meirihluti-hlynntur-tillogum-stjorn….
|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?||6.006 6.006|
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 parliament approved a resolution—the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative—that 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 nonprofit International Modern Media Institute (IMMI) was founded.5 The IMMI’s work, however, has been stalled in recent years. In May 2020, parliament finally approved a law protecting whistleblowers from retaliation.6 However, other elements of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative remain unimplemented.
- 1Government of Iceland, “Constitution of the Republic of Iceland,” January 19, 2018, http://www.government.is/constitution/
- 2Fjolmidlanefnd, “Media Law No. 38,” April 20, 2011, https://fjolmidlanefnd.is/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Media-Act-38_2011…
- 3Jonathan Stray, “Iceland aims to become an offshore haven for journalists and leakers,” Nieman Lab, February 11, 2010, https://www.niemanlab.org/2010/02/iceland-aims-to-become-an-offshore-ha…
- 4Afua Hirsch, “Iceland aims to become a legal safe haven for journalists,” The Guardian, July 12, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/jul/12/iceland-legal-haven-journ…
- 5Jennifer Karchmer, “Two Years Old: IMMI Inches Through Icelandic Parliament,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, July 6, 2012, https://grapevine.is/mag/articles/2012/07/06/two-years-old-immi-inches-…
- 6Andie Sophia Fontaine, “Iceland’s Parliament Approves Law Protecting Whistleblowers,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, 13 May 2020, https://grapevine.is/news/2020/05/13/icelands-parliament-approves-law-p…
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||3.003 4.004|
Despite having 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 “nationality, color, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”2
In a positive change, blasphemy was repealed as a criminal offense under Article 125 of the penal code in 2015. 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
In March 2018, in an effort to restart the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, the prime minister appointed an expert committee tasked with improving legislation concerning freedom of expression, media, and information.5 The committee reviewed earlier bills and drafted new ones in line with its mandate. The committee delivered five bills to the government in 2018 (aimed at reducing compensation for defamation claims, narrowing the definition of criminal hate speech, narrowing the intermediary liability of ISPs, protecting civil servants’ freedom of expression, and removing data retention requirements) and four additional bills in 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 Aside from the whistleblower protection bill enacted in 2020 (see C1), none of these measures have been enacted in recent years.
- 1Scott Griffen, Defamation and Insult Laws in the OSCE Region: A Comparative Study,” Commissioned by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media,” March 2017, https://www.osce.org/fom/303181?download=true
- 2Government of Iceland, “The General Penal Code,” accessed September 2023, https://www.government.is/library/Files/General_Penal_Code_sept.-2015.p…
- 3International Press Institute, “Media Laws Database: Iceland,” accessed September 2023, http://legaldb.freemedia.at/legal-database/iceland/
- 4Fjolmidlanefnd, “Media Law No. 38,” April 20, 2011, https://fjolmidlanefnd.is/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Media-Act-38_2011…
- 5Stjornarradid, “Nefnd um umbætur á löggjöf á sviði tjáningar-, fjölmiðla- og upplýsingafrelsis [Committee on Reform of Legislation in the Area of Freedom of Expression, Media and Information],” accessed September 2023, https://www.stjornarradid.is/raduneyti/nefndir/nanar-um-nefnd/?itemid=a…
- 6Email interview with Senior Advisor for the Ministry of Science, Education and Culture, April 2, 2019.
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||6.006 6.006|
Internet users are periodically prosecuted but rarely penalized for their online activities. The coverage period saw no notable civil or criminal cases for online expression.
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||4.004 4.004|
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 encryption keys.
- 1“Timeline of SIM Card Registration Laws,” Privacy International, June 11, 2019, https://privacyinternational.org/long-read/3018/timeline-sim-card-regis…
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||6.006 6.006|
Users are generally free from state surveillance, which is regulated under the Telecommunications Law1 and a set of rules issued in 2006.2 According to the most recent data disclosed by the public prosecutor’s office, police requested phone usage data or other related surveillance techniques a total of 388 times in 2020, with phone usage data specifically requested 92 times.3
As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government launched a voluntary contact tracing app called Rakning C-19 in April 2020.4 The app tracked users’ movements, storing this geolocation data on their mobile devices. State authorities could then request that users share the data. The app’s code was inspected by a member of parliament from the Pirate Party, who confirmed that “the necessary measures have been taken so that authorities can only access information with the permission of each individual.”5
In May 2021, Rakning C-19 was updated to allows users to enable Bluetooth contact tracing rather than geolocation tracking. Alma Möller, the director of Iceland’s healthcare agency, stated that the changes allow authorities to trace potential exposures without compromising privacy.6
According to the 2013 revelations that the United States and allied intelligence agencies had been collecting and storing massive amounts of user data from global online communications, Iceland has cooperated with the activities of the Five Eyes—the intelligence alliance between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.7 It is not clear whether that cooperation extended into the coverage period.
- 1International Modern Media Institute, “Islands of Resilience,” 2012, 32 https://www.greens-efa.eu/files/doc/docs/afb325f24f941eb3c5b2b5307d149b…,
- 2The Data Protection Authority, “Rules no. 837/2006 on Electronic Surveillance,” accessed September 2023, https://www.personuvernd.is/information-in-english/greinar/nr/610
- 3“Yfir 90 símhleranir lögreglu [Over 90 wiretaps by police],“ Morgunblaðið, May 26, 2021, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2021/05/26/yfir_90_simahleranir_logr…
- 4“Join the tracing team,” Official information about COVID-19 in Iceland, accessed September 2023, https://www.covid.is/app/en
- 5“Big brother knows and still Icelanders are happy,” The United Nations Regional Information Centre, April 23, 2020, https://unric.org/en/big-brother-knows-and-still-icelanders-are-happy/
- 6Jelena Ćirić, “COVID-19 in Iceland: Updated Tracing App Unveiled,” Iceland Review, May 12, 2021, https://www.icelandreview.com/society/covid-19-in-iceland-updated-traci…; Ragnhildur Þrastardóttir, “Ný útgáfa af smitrakningarappinu í þróun [New version of infection control app in development,” Morgunblaðið, January 21, 2021, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2021/01/21/ny_utgafa_af_smitrakninga….
- 7Carly Nyst, “The Five Eyes Fact Sheet,” Privacy International, November 26, 2013, https://privacyinternational.org/news-analysis/1204/five-eyes-fact-sheet; Alex Hern, “NSA surveillance hinders Iceland’s attempts to be a haven for free speech,” The Guardian, November 19, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/19/nsa-surveillance-ice…
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||4.004 6.006|
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 entered into force; among other things, it implements the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).1
A 2005 amendment2 to the Electronic Communications Act of 2003 implements data retention requirements.3 The law applies to telecommunications providers and mandates the retention of user data, including browsing history, for six months.4 It also states that companies may deliver user data only in criminal cases or on matters of public safety and that such information may be given only to the police or the public prosecutor.5
- 1The Data Protection Authority, “General Introduction,” accessed September 2023, https://www.personuvernd.is/information-in-english/greinar/nr/437
- 2Alþingi, “Lög um breytingu á lögum um fjarskipti, nr. 81/2003 [Act on amendments to the Electronic Communications Act, no. 81/2003],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/stjt/2005.078.html
- 3Alþingi, “Lög um fjarskipti [Communications Act],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/lagas/nuna/2003081.html
- 4Alþingi, “Lög um breytingu á lögum um fjarskipti, nr. 81/2003 [Act on amendments to the Electronic Communications Act, no. 81/2003],” accessed September 2023, https://www.althingi.is/altext/stjt/2005.078.html
- 5International Modern Media Institute, “Iceland to become International Transparency Haven,” accessed September 2023, https://en.immi.is/immi-resolution/
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||5.005 5.005|
Users were not subjected to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or other actors in relation to their online activities during the coverage period.
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||1.001 3.003|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because Iceland experienced more cyberattacks than in previous years, including a series of alleged Russian attacks that occurred ahead of the Council of Europe Summit held in Reykjavik.
Private companies and ordinary users are occasionally subjected to cyberattacks or hacking attempts. During the coverage period, several government websites and media outlets were targeted with cyberattacks.
In May 2023, Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management declared a “state of uncertainty” due to a series of cyberattacks that appeared to be connected to the Council of Europe Summit held in Reykjavik. The targets included websites belonging to Iceland’s Council of Ministers, the parliament (Alþingi), and the National Airport and Air Navigation Service Provider of Iceland (ISAVIA). Additional attempts to access personal information through Island.is and Iceland’s electronic ID system were also made.1 The pro-Russian hacking group NoName057(16) claimed responsibility for the attack, stating the attack was in response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address at the Council of Europe Summit.2 The state of uncertainty was lifted three days after the first attack.3
Media outlets were also targeted during the coverage period. In August 2022, one of Iceland’s main newspapers Fréttablaðið, which has since closed (see B7), was hit by a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack after publishing an interview with Valur Gunnarsson, a journalist reporting from Ukraine. The article included a photo depicting a Ukrainian individual stepping on the Russian flag. Prior to the attack, Fréttablaðið’s editorial inbox received an email from Russian hackers demanding the article be taken down and that Fréttablaðið issue a public apology for publishing the article.4 The Russian Embassy also contacted the outlet, condemning the article in question and urging the outlet to comply with the hackers’ request. Sigmundur Ernir, the outlet’s editor-in-chief, stated that Fréttablaðið would not be issuing an apology.5
In November 2022, an executive at RÚV, Iceland’s state broadcaster, claimed that RÚV faced cyberattacks daily, but noted that the broadcaster was well-equipped to manage the attacks. Relatedly, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the ministry was monitoring cases like this closely.6 In April 2022, the websites of RÚV and Icelandic newspaper DV experienced temporary disruptions after being targeted with DDoS attacks. The attacks rendered the DV website fully inaccessible multiple times, while the disruptions to the RÚV were minimal.7
Several other institutions were targeted by cyberattacks during the coverage period. In August 2022, Iceland’s Medicines Agency was targeted. Although the attack affected multiple systems, no private information was reportedly compromised by the attack.8 In September 2022, Iceland’s Technical College was hit by a significant cyberattack that crippled the school’s network for several days.9
In September 2021, Iceland’s financial sector was hit by a substantial DDoS attack. Although companies that were subject to the attack claimed that no user data was stolen, most payment services were disrupted for about one hour.10
In December 2021, Strætó, the public transportation company, was the subject of a cyberattack by foreign hackers. The hackers involved threatened to leak user data if Strætó did not pay a requested fee. Compromised data included contact and personal information belonging to current and former Strætó employees.11
The National Computer Security Incident Response Team (CERT-ÍS), operating within the PTA, is the national point of contact for critical cybersecurity incidents.12 In 2015, the Ministry of the Interior published an ICT security policy that aimed to increase resilience for, raise awareness about, and expand collaboration with international organizations on cybersecurity issues.13 The PTA also operates a website with cybersecurity advisories for the public.14
- 1“Óvissustig almannavarna vegna netárása á stofnanir [Civil Protection declares state of uncertainty due to cyber attacks against public institutions],” Ísak Gabríel Regal, May 16, 2023, https://nyr.ruv.is/frettir/innlent/2023-05-16-ovissustig-almannavarna-v…
- 2“Tölvuþrjótarnir kalla Vesturlönd nasista [The cyber criminals call Western countries Nazis],” May 16, 2023, https://www.visir.is/g/20232415924d/tolv-u-thrjot-arn-ir-kall-a-vest-ur…
- 3“Uncertainty level lifted over cyber attacks,” Iceland Monitor, May 19, 2023, https://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2023/05/19/uncertainty_level_li…
- 4“Netárás og hótun um að loka vef Fréttablaðsins [Cyber attack and threat to close the Fréttablaðið website],” August 11, 2022, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2022/08/11/netaras_og_hotun_um_ad_lo…
- 5Larissa Kyzer, “Apologize or Face Cyberattack: Icelandic Paper Faces Threats from Hackers and Ire of Russian Embassy,” Iceland Review, August 12, 2022, https://www.icelandreview.com/politics/apologize-or-face-cyberattack-ic…
- 6“Allmargar netárásir á RÚV á hverjum degi [Quite a few cyber attacks against RÚV every day],” November 22, 2022, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2022/11/22/allmargar_netarasir_a_ruv…
- 7Larissa Kyzer, “Icelandic Websites Under Cyber Attack,” Iceland Review, April 15, 2022, https://www.icelandreview.com/sci-tech/icelandic-websites-under-cyber-a…
- 8“Netárás gerð á Lyfjastofnun [Cyber attack against Medicines Agency],” August 6, 2022, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2022/08/06/netaras_gerd_a_lyfjastofn…
- 9“Árásin á skólann vel ígrunduð og alvarleg [Attack on school well planned and serious],” September 12, 2022, https://www.mbl.is/frettir/innlent/2022/09/12/arasin_a_skolann_vel_igru…
- 10Hallgerður Kolbrún E. Jónsdóttir, “Netárásin umfangsmikil en þrjótarnir náðu engum upplýsingum um viðskiptavini [Cyber attack extensive but the thugs did not manage to retrieve any information about customers],” Vísir, September 12, 2021, https://www.visir.is/g/20212154888d
- 11“Cyber-attack against Strætó”, January 18, 2022, https://straeto.is/en/user-information/cyber-attack-against-straeto
- 12“About CERT-IS,” Computer Security Incident Response Team, accessed September 2023, https://www.cert.is/default.aspx?pageid=6b347de1-b177-11ea-945f-005056b…
- 13Gijs Hillenius, “Iceland boosts ICT Security Measures, Shares Policy,” ePractice Community, European Commission, August 28, 2015, https://joinup.ec.europa.eu/collection/ict-security/news/iceland-boosts…, Stjornarradid, “Icelandic National Cyber Security Strategy 2015-2026,” accessed September 2023, https://www.stjornarradid.is/media/innanrikisraduneyti-media/media/fret…
- 14Post and Telecom Administration, “Network and information security,” accessed September 2023, https://www.pfs.is/english/telecom-affairs/network-and-information-secu…
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Global Freedom Score94 100 free
Internet Freedom Score94 100 free
Freedom in the World StatusFree