Freedom of expression is the right of individuals and organizations to exchange information without fear of repercussion or censorship. That right includes not only expressing ideas and opinions and imparting information but also seeking out information, receiving it and being an audience for it, as, for example, in a lecture or a public address. The term freedom of speech is commonly used synonymously; however, it refers only to the legal right to speak out publicly.
Freedom of expression is codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in Section 19, which states in part:
"…everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) restates Article 19 but also adds important restrictions to the freedom of expression that address the duties and responsibilities that necessarily accompany that right. The restrictions are designed to protect the rights of other parties, as well as national security, public order and public health.
To that end, freedom of expression may exclude:
- Libel or slander.
- Infringement on the right to be forgotten.
- Copyright violation.
- Disclosure of trade secrets.
- Threats to individual privacy.
- Fighting words, which includes hate speech.
- Violations of non-disclosure agreements.
In the United States, freedom of expression is specified in the First Amendment to the Constitution.