Should Internet Access be a Civil Right?

Critics of “three-strikes” laws think society risks disenfranchising large segments of the population, especially with outdated copyright laws more relevant to a world before digital distribution.

In an age of growing attempts by copyright holders to implement so-called “three-strikes” legislation to deal with online piracy, some think Internet disconnection for accused file-sharers could raise concerns over the “right to freedom of expression.”

“It’s a social inclusion question,” says Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre executive director David Vaile.

He warns that disconnecting people from the Internet in many ways disconnects them from society, and that particularly restrictive Australian copyright laws increases the risk that it will happen.

“The number of people who could be chucked off like this is quite huge,” he added.

Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson says the commission hasn’t considered the issue yet, but does acknowledge that Internet access may raise concerns “‘relevant to the right to freedom of expression.”

So far Internet access has been deemed a human right in Finland and Estonia, with calls in Greece and France to follow suit. Attempts do so in France may be somewhat difficult with that country having already enacted “three-strikes” legislation last September.

However, it is worth noting that France’s Constitutional Council struck down an earlier version of the law as unconstitutional, finding that the Internet is essential for the “free communication of thoughts,” and therefore full civic participation in a democratic society.

Dated: June 4, 2010