Iceland | Freedom House

Freedom on the Net


Freedom on the Net 2015
Total Score: 
(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)
Obstacles to Access: 
(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)
Limits on Content: 
(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)
Violations of User Rights: 
(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)

Quick Facts

Population: 328,000
Internet Penetration: 98 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: No
Political/Social Content Blocked: No
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: No
Press Freedom Status: Free
Key Developments: 

June 2014 - May 2015

  • Iceland continues to have one of the highest rates of internet access in the world, with an internet penetration rate of 98 percent in 2014 (see Availability and Ease of Access).
  • A resolution on the protection of user rights was adopted by the parliament in 2014 and awaits implementation; several bills on whistleblower protection and data retention were also presented in parliament in March 2015 (see Legal Environment).

Iceland has some of the highest rates of internet and social media use in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.[1] Internet and digital media play a vital role in Icelandic society, and Iceland is an international leader when it comes to focusing on free speech and online media. The “crowdsourced constitution” process continues,[2] following in the wake of the country’s financial collapse in 2008 when the three major banks went bankrupt, and social media platforms such as Facebook were integrated into the process of creating a new constitution.[3] In June 2010, the Icelandic parliament launched a new media initiative protecting free speech, aiming to make Iceland a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers.[4] In March 2015, a series of bills on data retention and whistleblower protection, among other things, were presented in the parliament. In addition, a parliamentary resolution concerning the benefits of a free and unrestricted internet and the protection of user rights was adopted in late 2014 and awaits implementation in the near future.[5] 

Obstacles to Access: 

Iceland is one of the most connected countries in the world, with the highest percentage of households with access to the internet in Europe. There are very few obstacles to accessing the internet; however, the ICT regulatory agency’s ability to address concerns about concentration in the market has been limited. In 2013, the government passed legislation to address this issue, allowing the Competition Authority some oversight powers with regard to regulating media concentration.

Availability and Ease of Access

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Iceland had an internet penetration rate of nearly 98 percent in 2014, compared to 97 percent in 2013 and 93 percent in 2009,[6] with only a minimal difference in usage between the capital region and the other regions of the country.[7] This is the highest percentage of internet users of all European countries, compared to an average internet penetration rate of 81 percent within the European Union.[8] 

Broadband connections were put into operation in 1998, and by 2006, slightly less than 90 percent of Icelandic households had internet access. The percentage of households with high speed internet connections, such as ADSL or SDSL, has increased greatly in recent years.[9] In 2007, the Icelandic city of Seltjarnes became the first municipality in the world where every citizen has access to fiber-optic internet service.[10]

The price of accessing the internet via computers and mobile phones is very affordable: a basic internet subscription with 5 GB of data costs around ISK 3,744 per month (approximately US$27), and a basic mobile phone connection with 500 Mb of data costs around ISK 681 per month (approximately US$5),[11] while the average monthly salary is approximately ISK 464,000 (US$3,420).

Icelanders are frequent internet users, with 95 percent connecting to the internet daily or almost daily.[12] A vast majority of the population (78 percent) is connected via broadband, and a growing number (22 percent) are connected via fiber-optics.[13] In addition, 82 percent of Icelanders had access to the internet via a mobile connection in 2014.[14] Furthermore, 84 percent of individuals used social networks, 95 percent read news online, 95 percent sent or received emails, 93 percent used online banking, and 34 percent stored electronic content on internet storage space.[15]

Restrictions on Connectivity

There are no government-imposed restrictions on connectivity in Iceland. The country has been connected to the internet since 1989 via the NORDUnet in Denmark. The following year, a leased line to NORDUnet in Sweden was established, and the link was gradually upgraded. The Nordic connection was supplemented in 1997, when ISnet established a direct connection to Teleglobe in Canada, which was upgraded when the line was moved to New York in 1999.[16]

Iceland has multiple channels connecting the country to the international internet, including connections to the international backbone through three submarine cables: FARICE-1, DANICE, and Greenland Connect. 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 top-level domain registry ISNIC.

ICT Market

Síminn is the main internet and telecommunications operator in Iceland and runs fixed-line and mobile voice call services, as well as internet services and broadband television. Síminn is based on a merger between Landssími Íslands, which was privatized in 2005, and the company Skipti ehf. Of the ISPs in Iceland, Síminn holds the largest market share (52.3 percent), followed by Vodafone (30 percent), Tal (7.9 percent), and Hringdu (3.6 percent), with the other companies comprising the remaining 6.2 percent. Regarding market share in mobile broadband, Síminn is the leading provider with the largest market share (42.9 percent), followed by Nova (30.1 percent), Vodafone (25.5 percent), and Tal (1.3 percent).[17]

Regulatory Bodies

The main regulatory body governing information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Iceland is the Post and Telecom Affairs (PTA), which is an independent center under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. The PTA supervises development, logistics, and fair competition in the field of telecommunications networks. Decisions of the PTA may be referred to the Rulings Committee for Electronic Communications and Postal Affairs. The Minister of the Interior appoints the three members of the Appellate Committee, following the nomination by the Supreme Court. The chairman and vice chairman must comply with the competence qualifications applying to Supreme Court judges. The members of the committee are appointed for a period of four years.[18] In addition to the PTA, the Ministry of the Interior is responsible for the legal matters relating to online content.

A new media law, established on September 1, 2011, continued to stir debate in subsequent years.[19] While the intention of the law was to create greater press freedom through a comprehensive framework governing broadcast, press, and online media, it also established an oversight body, the State Media Commission. According to the law, the Minister of Education, Science and Culture appoints five people to the Media Commission for terms of four years at a time. Two representatives are appointed in accordance with a nomination by the Supreme Court, one in accordance with a nomination by the standing Committee of Rectors of Icelandic Higher Education Institutions, and one in accordance with a nomination by the National Union of Icelandic Journalists. The fifth member is appointed by the minister without an outside nomination.[20]

The Media Commission has no authority to deal with media concentration issues (a major concern of public debate in Iceland), but new legislation was put forth in 2013 that would give the Competition Authority oversight responsibility in consultation with the Media Commission. The bill was passed as an amendment to the new media law in March 2013. The amendment gives the Competition Authority other means and measures to deal with competition cases when media companies are concerned. Thus, the Competition Authority can look at issues such as plurality and whether there will be a decrease in newsrooms resulting from mergers and acquisitions, for example. According to the bill, the Media Commission shall in such cases give its opinion from a media authority’s perspective.[21]

In July 2014, the Prime Minister appointed a working group to review the laws, regulations and administrations of regulatory authorities and evaluate how principles of good regulations and practices are met. In September 2014, the Minister for Education, Science and Culture is set to research the feasibility of the merger of four regulatory authorities: the Media Commission, the Post and Telecom Administration, the Icelandic Competition Authority, and the monitoring part of the National Energy Authority in Iceland. Recommendations will be published in the end of May 2015.[22]

Limits on Content: 

Access to information and online communication is generally free from government interference; however, in October 2014 a court ordered online content to be blocked for the first time, in a case involving two BitTorrent websites. Iceland is not a member of the European Union, although the country is part of the European Economic Area and has agreed to follow legislation regarding consumer protection and business law similar to other member states.[23]

Blocking and filtering

In October 2014, the Reykjavík District Court ordered two  ISPs (Hringdu and Vodafone) to block the file-sharing website The Pirate Bay and the largest private Icelandic torrent website, Deildu. The court order came after the music rights group STEF and the motion picture association SMAIS attempted to have the file sharing websites blocked due to copyright infringement, since much on the content on these sites is pirated material. In 2013, the two groups reported the torrent websites to the police. In May 2014, the Supreme Court declared that only one of the groups (STEF) could claim the injunctive relief right.[24]

Prior to the blocking, in April 2013, The Pirate Bay website had relocated to Iceland, after the Swedish authorities attempted to seize its domains, giving it an “.is” domain name. Within a week of the move, however, the site chose to relocate again outside of Iceland, even though ISNIC stated it had no intention of trying to seize the domain.[25] According to Icelandic law, the registrant is responsible for ensuring that the use of the domain is within the limits of the law.[26]

Similar to other Nordic countries, ISPs in Iceland filter websites containing child pornography. The ISPs collaborate with the Icelandic Save the Children (called Barnaheill) and participate in the International Association of Internet Hotlines (INHOPE) project.[27] In addition, pornography in general is illegal in Iceland, although the ban is not strongly enforced, and online pornography is not blocked.

In 2013, the previous minister of the interior, Ögmundur Jónasson, proposed two new bills in an effort to uphold and reinvigorate an existing law banning pornography and gambling online that is vaguely worded and rarely enforced. The ban focused on making it illegal to pay for pornographic material with Icelandic credit cards, in addition to creating a national internet filter and a blacklist of websites that contain pornographic content.[28] Opponents led by Icelandic Member of Parliament and free speech activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir deemed that the ban would limit free speech online, a position that was supported by academics and free speech advocates from outside Iceland in an open letter to the Icelandic minister of the interior.[29] The plan for banning pornographic content online has been stalled since the change in government during the parliamentary election on April 27, 2013. Since then, there have been no changes to the relevant legislation, and no changes have been formally proposed.[30]

Content removal

In October 2014, the domain hosting company ISNIC, which operates the Icelandic .is domain, was forced to shut down a website for the first time when it discovered that the domain was being used by the self-described Islamic State terrorist group.[31] The ISNIC’s board made the decision based on regulations holding the registrar responsible for ensuring that the use of the .is domain does not violate Icelandic laws.

Icelandic law number 30/2002 establishes a system of takedown notices for IP addresses or other online content that violates the law, in accordance with the Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for handling matters related to online content, and the appeals process for disputing the removal of content goes through the independent courts in Iceland.

ISPs and content hosts are not held legally liable for the content that they host or transmit. Claims regarding intellectual property rights are handled by the Icelandic Patent Office, which is substantially 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.

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

Iceland has a vibrant digital sphere, and almost all traditional media, including print, radio, and television, offer versions of their content online. Self-censorship is not a widespread problem in Icelandic online media, and there are very few instances of government or partisan manipulation of online content.

The websites of some newspapers, like the daily Morgunbladid, are among the most popular Icelandic-language sites.[32] Internet banking is widely used, and a large majority of Icelanders (93 percent) are online bank users. E-governance initiatives have been successful in Iceland and in recent years, public institutions have started a migration process from proprietary software to free and open software.[33] The government promotes the use of digital signatures and electronic filing, and the use of digital signatures is supported through legislation such as the Public Administration Act. Digital signatures are in the process of being integrated further into the public administration.[34]

Social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and international blog hosting services are freely available and are used by a large part of the population. In 2013 Iceland had the second highest number of Facebook users based on population percentage: 72 percent of the population has an account. Women make up 52 percent of users and men 48 percent, and the social networking site is mostly used by people aged 25-34, followed by people aged 18-24.[35]

Digital activism

The popularity of social media sites like Facebook was used to engage the population in the process of redrafting the Icelandic constitution over the past few years. The original and existing constitution is an almost exact copy of the Danish constitutional text, which was adopted when Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944. In the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008, the population demanded an extensive review of the country’s constitution.[36] 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 Icelandic citizens using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.[37] A majority of the population voted for the draft constitution in a national referendum on October 20, 2012.[38] In November 2013, the prime minister appointed a committee on constitutional affairs to continue the work on the constitution in accordance with an agreement reached by parliamentary parties. The committee issued a report in June 2014 concerning four priority political issues, and work on the next report was started after incorporating public comments and feedback and is to be issued in the fall of 2015. In accordance with current constitutional arrangements, the actual revision of the constitution will take place under the guidance of the parliament, with due consideration for the crowdsourced work done in recent years. Emphasis will be on transparency and informed debate, and the general public will participate. The aim is to present a bill before the next elections in 2017.[39]

Although elections are not until 2017, according to a poll from March 2015, the Pirate Party, supporting online freedom and led by Birgitta Jónsdóttir, would become the largest in parliament with 29 percent of the votes, followed by the Independence Party with 23 percent if elections were held at the time of the poll.[40] The Icelandic Pirate Party is aligned with a network of other similarly named political parties throughout the world that also promote a platform of free expression and has been the first Pirate Party to win seats in a national election (2013).[41]

Violations of User Rights: 

Iceland has a strong tradition of protecting freedom of expression that extends to the use of the internet. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative seeks to develop legal frameworks for protecting the press, bloggers, and whistleblowers from illegitimate prosecutions or harassment. Individuals are rarely prosecuted for social or political content posted online, though libel laws remain a concern. Government surveillance of online data is minimal, though reports over the past few years revealed that Icelanders’ data was subject to collection and monitoring by the NSA and its partners.

Legal environment

Freedom of expression is protected under Article 73 of the Icelandic constitution.[42] In June 2010, following the 2008 financial crisis and inspired by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks, the Icelandic parliament approved a resolution on the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which aims to create a global safe haven with legal protection for the press, bloggers, and whistleblowers.[43] In 2012, the minister of education, science and culture appointed a committee of experts to report on online and offline challenges and propose recommendations for the promotion of freedom of expression and information.[44] After a period with no incoming funds after the change in government in 2013, the new minister of education, science and culture recently assigned funding for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and appointed a new committee.[45]

In March 2015, several bills concerning the safe haven objective of Iceland were submitted to Parliament, primarily by the Pirate Party as well as other members. The bills include whistleblower protection, a removal of a clause on data retention, and a resolution on establishing an office of Independent Oversight for police wiretapping procedures and other comparable investigative measures.[46] As of May 2015, the bills have yet to be passed.[47] In addition, a parliamentary resolution concerning the benefits of a free and unrestricted internet and the protection of user rights was adopted in late 2014 and awaits implementation in the near future.[48] 

The Icelandic Media Law, which came into effect in September 2011, established several legal protections for journalists that extend to the online sphere, including editorial independence from media service providers’ owners and the protection of anonymous sources.[49]

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

There has been great concern about libel laws in recent years with regard to both online and offline media. Journalists consider the court’s practice with regard to libel laws to be too rigid, leading to lawsuits that aim to silence critical press. According to Article 51 of the Icelandic Media Law, journalists can no longer be held responsible for potentially libelous quotes from sources, but can only be held responsible for their own content.[50]

In June 2014, civil servant Þórey Vilhjálmsdóttir was falsely identified as the source in an information leak in the Ministry of the Interior, which led to the resignation of former Minister of Interior Hanna Birna Kristjansdóttir.[51] The journalists corrected the statement without hours. Still, Vilhjálmsdóttir pressed defamation charges and sought the maximum punishment (two years in prison) as well as damages and legal costs against the journalists Jón Bjarki Magnússon and Jóhann Páll Jóhannsson, from the online and print newspaper DV, even though the journalists had publicly admitted their mistake. The case was closed when the newspaper DV settled against the will of the two journalists and payed ISK 330,000 (US$2,436) to Vilhjálmsdóttir.[52]

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

Following revelations that U.S. and UK intelligence agencies have been collecting and storing massive amounts of user data from online communications around the world, free speech activists in Iceland such as Birgitta Jónsdóttir expressed concern that Iceland’s efforts to protect journalists and whistleblowers from the threats of surveillance may ultimately prove ineffective.[53] Iceland is part of a greater international surveillance network that cooperates with the activities of the “Five Eyes Alliance”—the intelligence operations agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.[54]      

Currently, the Electronic Communications Act of 2003 implements data retention requirements mandated by Iceland’s inclusion in the European Economic Area.[55] The law applies to telecommunication providers and mandates the retention of records of all connection data for six months. It also states that companies may only deliver information on telecommunications in criminal cases or on matters of public safety, and that such information may not be given to anyone other than the police or the public prosecution.[56] The government does not place any restrictions on anonymous communication. No registration is required when purchasing a SIM card in Iceland.

Intimidation and violence

There have been no physical attacks against bloggers or online journalists in Iceland.

Technical attacks

In March 2015, the website of the Icelandic museum Njál’s Saga Center was hacked in the name of the terrorist organization Islamic State (ISIS).[57] This followed an incident in October 2014, when ISNIC shut down a website that appeared to be run by ISIS.[58]

In December 2013, Iceland experienced its most serious cyberattack to date, when a Turkish computer hacker cracked Vodafone’s website.[59] Since June 2013, the Icelandic National CERT, operating within the Post and Telecom Administration in Iceland, has been the national center point for cybersecurity incidents and participates in international efforts and cooperation.[60]



[1] World Economic Forum, The Global Information Technology Report 2014,

[2] Email interview with employee at the Prime Minister’s Office, April 27, 2015.

[3] Robert Robertson, “Voters in Iceland back new constitution, more resource control,” Reuters, October 21, 2012,

[4] International Modern Media Institute (IMMI),

[5] Email interview with member of the Media Committee, April 29, 2015 and IMMI; IMMI, “Data Protection,”;  and the Icelandic Parliament, “Resolution on the internet,”

[6] International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of individuals using the internet,” 2014, 2013 & 2008,

[7] Statistics Iceland,

[8] Statistics Iceland,

[9] Birgir Gudmondsson, “Media Landscapes – Iceland,” European Journalism Centre, 2010,

[10] Idega, “Seltjarnes,”

[12] Statistics Iceland, “Information Technology,”2003-2014,

[13] Post and Telecom Administration, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market for the First Half of 2014,”

[14] Statistics Iceland,

[15] Statistics Iceland. 

[16] Cathy Newman, “Iceland Internet Diffusion,”

[17] The Post and Telecom Administration, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market for the First Half of 2014.”

[18] The Post and Telecom Administration, “Rulings Committee,” [in Icelandic]

[19] Email interview with former employee at the Icelandic Media Commission, Jan 29, 2014.

[20] Fjolmidlanefnd, “The Media Commission,”

[21] Fjolmidlanefnd, “The Media Commission.” 

[22] Email interview member of the Media Commission, April 29, 2015.

[23] OpenNet Initiative, “Nordic Countries,”

[24] Reuters, “Iceland court orders Vodafone to block Pirate Bay,” RT, October 17, 2014,

[25] Stan Schroeder, “The Pirate Bay Moves to the Caribbean,” Mashable, May 1, 2013,

[26] ISNIC, “Domain Rules,”

[28] “Banning the Sex Industry - Naked Ambition,” The Economist, April 20, 2013,

[29] “Iceland’s Porn Ban Effort Draw Fire from Abroad,” IceNews,  March 17, 2013,

[30] Phone interview with an employee from the Icelandic Ministry of the Interior, May 12, 2015.

[31] Eyglo Svala Arnarsdottir, “IS Terrorist Organization Picks Icelandic Domain,” Iceland Review, October 13, 2014,

[32] Gudmondsson, “Media Landscapes – Iceland.”

[33]  Gijs Hillenius, “IS: Public administration in Iceland is moving to open source,” ePractice Community, European Commission, April 4, 2012,

[34] IDABC – European eGovernment Services, “Study on Mutual Recognition of eSignatures,” July 2009,

[35] Rebecca Louder, “Iceland Ranks Second in Facebook Users”, The Reykjavík Grapevine, April 4, 2013,

[36] Robertson, “Voters in Iceland Back New Constitution, More Resource Control.” 

[37] “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,

[38] Julia Mahncke, “Iceland’s grassroots constitution on thin ice,” Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2013,

[39] Email interview with employee at the Legislative Department at the Office of the Prime Minister, April 27, 201;  and the website on the work with the draft constitution and constitutional matters in general:

[40] Lucy Westcott, “Pirate Party is Now Iceland’s Biggest Political Party,” Newsweek, March 19, 2015,;  and Anna Margrét Björnsson, “The Pirates are now Iceland’s most popular party,” Iceland Monitor, March 19, 2015,

[41] Interview with employee at the Icelandic Media Commission, May 17, 2013.

[42] Constitution of the Republic of Iceland,

[43] IFEX, “Authorities create a safe haven for press freedom,” June 23, 2010,

[44] Email interview with former employee at the Icelandic Media Commission, Jan 29, 2014.

[45] Email interview with member of the Icelandic Media Commission, April 29, 2015.

[46] Disclosure of Information and Protection of Whistleblower Bill, case no. 453,; and IMMI, “A bill on Whistleblowers, removal of Data Retention and more,” March 25, 2015,

[47] Email interview with employee working for the Pirate Party, April 28, 2015.

[48] Email interview with member of the Media Committee, April 29, 2015; IMMI, “Data Protection,”;  and the Icelandic Parliament, “Resolution on the internet,”  

[49] Media Law No. 38, art. 24 and 25, April 20, 2011,

[50] Media Law No. 38, April 20, 2011,

[51] Jakob Bjaranr Skrifar, “Hanna Birna hættir,” Visir, November 21, 2014,

[52] Nanna Árnadóttir, “Journalists: DV Insisted On Settling,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, December 6, 2014,

[53] Alex Hern, “NSA surveillance hinders Iceland’s attempts to be a haven for free speech,” The Guardian, November 19, 2013,

[54] Carly Nyst, “The Five Eyes Fact Sheet,” Privacy International, November 26, 2013,

[55] Electronic Communications Act No. 81, March 26, 2003,

[56] Icelandic Media Initiative,

[57] Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, “IS hacks Iceland Saga Museum Website,” Iceland Review, March 9, 2015,

[58] Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, “IS Terrorist Organization Picks Icelandic Domain.” 

[59] Ingibjórg Rósa Bjórnsdóttir, “Biggest Cyber Attack in Iceland,” The Reykjavik Grapevine, December 3, 2013,

[60] Post and Telecom Administration in Iceland,