Iceland

Free
6/100
Key Developments: 

June 1, 2017 - May 31, 2018

  • In efforts to increase transparency and public engagement in policy-making, Iceland’s new government opened an online platform for the public and stakeholders to provide feedback on government initiatives (see Digital Activism).

  • In November 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found that Iceland’s courts had violated a controversial public figure’s right to privacy by dismissing a defamation claim against a user who called him a “rapist” on Instagram (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).

  • Iceland's public broadcasting service reported two cyberattacks against its site in 2018, knocking it offline for several hours (see Technical Attacks).

Introduction: 

Internet and digital media continued to play a vital role in Icelandic society as users continued to reap the benefits of high internet usage.

Iceland is an international leader when it comes to promoting free speech. In 2010, the Icelandic parliament launched a new media initiative protecting free speech, aiming to make Iceland a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers.1 Following the country’s financial collapse in 2008 when the three major banks went bankrupt, social media platforms such as Facebook were integrated into the process of creating a new constitution.2 This “crowdsourced constitution” process continued.

Parliamentary elections were held on October 28, 2017, after the three-party coalition disintegrated due to a scandal involving former Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson. The new government is led by the Left-Green Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who embarked on an initiative to increase transparency and engagement in government and policy-making by opening an online platform to discuss items such as draft legislative proposals.

Obstacles to Access: 

Iceland is one of the most connected countries in the world. 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

With near ubiquitous access, Icelanders are frequent internet users. Most recent figures estimate an internet penetration rate of 99 percent.3 According to the Statistical Yearbook of Iceland there is only a minimal difference in usage between the capital region and other regions of the country, or between women and men.4

The percentage of households with high-speed internet connections, such as ADSL or SDSL, has increased greatly in recent years.5 Broadband connections were put into operation in 1998, and by 2006, slightly less than 90 percent of Icelandic households had internet access. In 2007, the Icelandic city of Seltjarnes became the first municipality in the world where every citizen has access to fiber-optic internet service.6 In the first half of 2017, the majority of the population using the internet was connected via broadband (62 percent), while a growing number connected via fiber-optic cable (38 percent).7

Restrictions on Connectivity

There are no government-imposed restrictions on connectivity in Iceland. The country has been connected to the internet via the NORDUnet network in Denmark since 1989. 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 1999.8

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

Iceland’s ICT market is competitive and relatively diverse. Síminn continues to be 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 Íslandswhich was privatized in 2005, and the company Skipti ehf. The companies Tal and 365 merged under the banner of 365 in July 2014.9 In October 2017, Iceland’s competition authority gave the green light for Vodafone Iceland’s acquisition of most assets of 365, with a number of conditions to preserve competition.10

Of all the ISPs in 2017, Síminn held the largest market share (46.3 percent), followed by Vodafone (37.1 percent), and Hringdu (7.3 percent), with the remaining companies comprising 9.2 percent. Regarding market share in mobile broadband, Nova (39 percent) caught up with Síminn (32 percent), and became the leading company in mobile broadband, closely followed by Vodafone (26.2 percent).11

Regulatory Bodies

The main regulatory body governing information and communication technologies (ICTs) in Iceland is the Post and Telecom Administration (PTA), an independent center under the direction of the Ministry of the Interior. The Ministry is responsible for the legal matters relating to online content.

The PTA supervises development, logistics, and fair competition in the field of telecommunications networks. In mid-2017, the PTA issued 4G LTE spectrum licenses to four providers in a public tender.12 Decisions of the PTA may be referred to the Rulings Committee for Electronic Communications and Postal Affairs. The Rulings Committee consists of three persons appointed by the Minister of Transport and Communication. The chairman and vice chairman must comply with the competence qualifications applying to Supreme Court judges. Committee members are appointed for a period of four years.13

The Icelandic Competition Authority also makes decisions on telecoms. It is defined as an independent administrative authority, composed of three board members appointed by the Minister for Commerce, who then select a director. In the merger between Vodafone and 365 approved in October 2017, the ICA imposed certain conditions to preserve media plurality and competition in the market, such as requiring Vodafone to offer wholesale TV services.14

Limits on Content: 

Access to information and online communication is generally free from government interference. 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. Iceland took additional steps to strengthen public e-service in 2017 and continued to encourage the use of ICTs for political and civic purposes.

Blocking and Filtering

Political, social, and religious websites are not blocked in Iceland. 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.

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 which solicits reports of illegal content.15 In addition, pornography in general is illegal in Iceland, although the ban is not strongly enforced, and online pornography is not blocked.

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.16 The court order came after the music rights group STEF and the motion picture association SMAIS reported the torrent websites to police in 2013 due to copyright infringement, since much of the content on these sites is pirated material. In May 2014, the Supreme Court declared that only STEF could seek the injunction. In September 2015, a local news outlet reported that all major ISPs in Iceland had agreed to block access to the sites following the court order, but that proxy servers to circumvent the block were widely available.17 In the fall of 2016, STEF submitted a new complaint against Deildu that could lead to charges against the key person behind the operation of the Deildu website.18

Prior to the blocking, in April 2013, The Pirate Bay website had relocated from Sweden to Iceland and acquired an “.is” domain name, after the Swedish authorities attempted to seize its domains. 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.19 According to Icelandic law, the registrant is responsible for ensuring that the use of the domain is within the limits of the law.20

Content Removal

There were no problematic incidents of content removal during the coverage period of this report.

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 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.

ISNIC, Iceland’s main domain registrar, has rarely closed 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 September 2017.21 The infamous website reportedly lost its Icelandic web address based on a technicality, as the publisher failed to provide accurate registration information such as proof of identity and address.22

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.

E-governance initiatives have been successful in Iceland, and in recent years, public institutions have started a migration process from proprietary to free and open software.23 On January 1, 2015, the public administration in Iceland switched to eInvoicing, which includes digital management of payments and storage of receipts. The Ministry of Finance also encourages private companies to use the electronic invoice system.24 In addition, the government promotes the use of digital signatures and electronic filing, and since 2008, the use of digital signatures is supported through legislation such as the Public Administration Act.25 In 2013, the electronic Mobile ID (IceKey), which expands digital identification to phones, was launched. Several public administration services are accessible via Mobile ID reached via the official e-service portal online. The IceKey can be used to log into public systems, as well as to sign documents.26 Almost 68 percent of Icelanders27 have registered for the IceKey, and 24 percent are using the IceKey as electronic identification in their mobile phones, and over 200 institutions, local authorities, NGOs and businesses are using the system.28

All Icelandic residents with a national ID number (kennitala) can access the database ‘The Book of Icelanders’ (Íslendingabók) that contains genealogical information dating more than 1,200 years back. The database is a collaboration between deCODE genetics and the anti-virus software entrepreneur Fridrik Skúlason. 29 In 2013 an app (ÍslendingaApp) was developed for people to have easy access to the database.30

Digital Activism

Digital tools are widely used for social, political, and civic activism in Iceland. The popularity of social media sites like Facebook has been used to engage the population in the process of redrafting the Icelandic constitution over the past few years.

The new Prime Minister has promised to increase democratic governance.31 In February 2018, the new government opened an online platform for stakeholder engagement, where draft laws will be published for comments. This is to ensure that the legislative process becomes more transparent.32

Social media was also at the center of discussions to revise Iceland’s constitution. In the wake of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008, the population demanded an extensive review of the country’s constitution.33 The existing constitution is an almost exact copy of the Danish constitutional text, which was adopted when Iceland gained independence from Denmark in 1944. 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.34 A majority of the population voted for the draft constitution in a national referendum on October 20, 2012,35 though it was stalled in parliament.

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.

Legal Environment

Freedom of expression is protected under Article 73 of the Icelandic constitution.36 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.37

Despite strong protections for free speech, libel and insult are criminal offenses subject to fines or a prison sentence of up to one year. According to Article 51, journalists cannot be held responsible for potentially libelous quotes from sources, but they can be held responsible for libel in their own content.38Journalists consider the court’s practice with regard to libel laws to be too rigid, leading to lawsuits that aim to silence critical press.

In the past few years, the government has pursued several legislative and policy initiatives to enhance internet freedom. 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.39 In 2012, the Minister of Education, Science and Culture appointed a committee of experts to report on online and offline challenges to freedom of expression and information and propose recommendations for their promotion.40 In 2013, the new Minister of Education, Science and Culture assigned funding for the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and appointed a new committee to undertake the task of decriminalizing defamation, among other duties.41

In June 2015, blasphemy was repealed as a criminal offence under Article 125 of the Penal Code. It had carried penalties of fines or imprisonment for up to three months.42 The Pirate Party had proposed repealing it in Parliament in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France in January 2015.43

Other legislative efforts are ongoing. In 2016 four bills on data retention, defamation, and hate speech among other things were presented online for open consultation.44 An expert committee will review the bills as well as whistleblower protection, which will be presented by October 2018. A parliamentary resolution on equal access to the internet concerning the benefits of a free and unrestricted internet and the protection of user rights was adopted in late 2014 and awaits implementation.45 The Ministry of the Interior has introduced a legislative Act that would integrate the European regulation on net neutrality into the Icelandic internet policies. 46

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

Icelandic internet users are periodically prosecuted for their online activities, particularly for libel.

In November 2017, the European Court for Human Rights held that the Icelandic Supreme Court was wrong in ruling against a claim of online defamation, arguing that there had been a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. The well-known blogger and television personality Egill Einarsson had previously expressed misogynistic views,47 but had just been acquitted of sexual offense a week before an Instagram post had called him a ‘rapist’, which the Icelandic Supreme Court had not found defamatory.48

Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity

Following revelations in 2013 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 surveillance may ultimately prove ineffective.49 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.50

The Electronic Communications Act of 2003 implements data retention requirements.51 The law applies to telecommunication providers and mandates the retention of records 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.52 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 were no physical attacks against bloggers or online journalists in Iceland during the coverage period of this report.

Technical Attacks

While attacks against media outlets in Iceland are rarely reported, Iceland’s national broadcast service, RÚV, suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in May 2018 and was reportedly inaccessible for a couple of hours as a precautionary measure. The same site had already reported a previous attack in April.53

The telecom and finance sector have experienced various phishing attacks, and both the President of Iceland Gudni Th. Jóhannesson and the Icelandic investor Björgólfur Thor Björgólfsson were the subject of fake news and phishing scams in 2017.54

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.55 In July 2015, the Ministry of the Interior published a new ICT security policy that aims to increase resilience, raise awareness about security issues, and extend collaboration to organizations including the United Nations and the European Union, in addition to NATO.56

Notes: 

1 International Modern Media Institute (IMMI), https://immi.is/

2 Robert Robertson, “Voters in Iceland back new constitution, more resource control,” Reuters, October 21, 2012, http://reut.rs/Myiq8g

3 Internet World Stats, Iceland, December 2017, https://www.internetworldstats.com/europa2.htm#is

4 Statistics Iceland, “Statistical Yearbook of Iceland 2015,” http://bit.ly/1QUsztW. There has been no updated Statistical Yearbook since 2015.

5 Birgir Gudmondsson, “Media Landscapes – Iceland,” European Journalism Centre, 2010, http://bit.ly/1zkzQg5

6 Idega, “Seltjarnes,” http://bit.ly/1JGg0zu

7 Post and Telecom Administration, “Statistics on the Icelandic Electronic Communications Market for the First Half of 2017,” https://bit.ly/2EIaJwP

8 Cathy Newman, “Iceland Internet Diffusion,” http://bit.ly/1QxYiP9

9 Fanney Birna Jónsdóttir, “365 og Tal ræda sameiningu,” Visir, July 22, 2014, http://bit.ly/22hYNTR

10 ” Vodafone’s acquisition of 365 approved by regulator,” TeleGeography, October 11, 2017, http://bit.ly/2zBdt91

13 The Post and Telecom Administration, “Rulings Committee,” [in Icelandic] http://www.pfs.is/Default.aspx?cat_id=146.

16 “Freedom-Friendly Iceland Blocks The Pirate Bay,” Torrent Freak, October 16, 2014, https://torrentfreak.com/freedom-friendly-iceland-blocks-the-pirate-bay-141016/

17 Paul Fontaine, “Icelandic ISPs will block Access to Pirate Bay and Deildu”, Reykjavik Grapevine, September 16, 2015, bit.ly/1pIqYgE

18 “Tilgangsleysið með lögbanni á Deildu.net og Pirate Bay”, Kjarninn, October 16, 2016, http://bit.ly/2mPyAkD and “Lang­vinn bar­átta gegn Deildu.net”, mbl.is, July 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/2oxA0gd

19 Stan Schroeder, “The Pirate Bay Moves to the Caribbean,” Mashable, May 1, 2013, http://on.mash.to/1VULcwP

20 ISNIC, “Domain Rules,” https://www.isnic.is/en/domain/rules

23 Gijs Hillenius, “IS: Public administration in Iceland is moving to open source,” ePractice Community, European Commission, April 4, 2012, http://bit.ly/1EBAntk

24 Gijs Hillenius, “Iceland Government has Switched to eInvoicing,” ePractice Community, European Commission, February 25, 2015, bit.ly/1Xsf2KK

25 IDABC – European eGovernment Services, “Study on Mutual Recognition of eSignatures,” July 2009, http://bit.ly/1zzwczv

26 Review Gemalto, “How mobile ID conquered Iceland,” January 9, 2015, http://bit.ly/22gTzLH and Azazo.com, “The Icelandic Minister of the Interior signs this press release, using Mobile ID in CoreData,” February 25, 2014, http://bit.ly/1QUhLLf

27 According to Statistic Iceland the total population of January 2017 was 338,349, http://bit.ly/2mPoxMo

28 Ísland.is: numbers updated March 2, 2017, March 23, 2017, http://bit.ly/2oxz3Vc

30 Larissa Kyzer, “It’s Not Just an Anti-Incest App”, Reykjavik Grapevine, May 10, 2013, http://bit.ly/2nLrPzQ

31 Email interview with the Director of the Department of Legislative Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, February 3, 2018.

32 Email interview with the Director of the Department of Legislative Affairs at the Prime Minister’s Office, February 3, 2018 and https://samradsgatt.island.is/oll-mal/https://www.stjornarradid.is/efst-a-baugi/frettir/stok-frett/2018/02/05/Aukid-gagnsaei-med-opnun-samradsgattar/

33 Robertson, “Voters in Iceland Back New Constitution, More Resource Control.”

34 “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

35 Julia Mahncke, “Iceland’s grassroots constitution on thin ice,” Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2013, http://bit.ly/XmC9Hj

36 Constitution of the Republic of Iceland, http://www.government.is/constitution/

37 Media Law No. 38, art. 24 and 25, April 20, 2011, http://bit.ly/15C05KS

38 Media Law No. 38, April 20, 2011, http://bit.ly/15C05KS

39 IFEX, “Authorities create a safe haven for press freedom,” June 23, 2010, http://www.ifex.org/iceland/2010/06/23/safe_haven/

40 Email interview with former employee at the Icelandic Media Commission, Jan 29, 2014.

41 There has been no further development of the IMMI.

42 International Press Institute, Media Laws Database, http://bit.ly/1RjVMui

43 Kevin Rawlinson, “Iceland Repeals Blasphemy Ban after Pirate Party Campaign,” The Guardian, July 3, 2015, http://bit.ly/1D1If4K

44 The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture website, http://bit.ly/2nE5Jgn

45 Email interview with member of the Media Committee, April 29, 2015; IMMI, “Data Protection,” http://bit.ly/1X7lvLU; and the Icelandic Parliament, “Resolution on the internet,” http://bit.ly/1I3o8tx

47 Ingrida Milkaite, ”Egill Einarsson vs. Iceland: The Court Deals with an Offensive Instagram Post”, Strasbourg Observer, January 19, 2018, https://strasbourgobservers.com/2018/01/19/egill-einarsson-v-iceland-the-court-deals-with-an-offensive-instagram-post/

48 ECHR, “Judgment Einarsson v. Iceland - domestic courts' rejection of defamation claim concerning rape accusation,” November 7, 2017.

49 Alex Hern, “NSA surveillance hinders Iceland’s attempts to be a haven for free speech,” The Guardian, November 19, 2013, http://bit.ly/1vR6s9M

50 Carly Nyst, “The Five Eyes Fact Sheet,” Privacy International, November 26, 2013, http://bit.ly/1LwbVOI

51 Electronic Communications Act No. 81, March 26, 2003, http://bit.ly/1MF6rSA

52 Icelandic Media Initiative, https://immi.is

54 Iceland Magazine Visir, ”Fact check: No, President of Iceland won’t reveal the secret to making and easy $350/day from home,” October 13, 2017, http://icelandmag.visir.is/article/fact-check-no-president-iceland-wont-reveal-secret-making-easy-350day-home

55 Post and Telecom Administration in Iceland, http://bit.ly/LXusIn

56 Gijs Hillenius, “Iceland boosts ICT Security Measures, Shares Policy,” ePractice Community, European Commission, August 28, 2015, http://bit.ly/1SPsSYw and Icelandic National Cyber Security Strategy 2015-2026, http://bit.ly/1QUMgBU