Since it’s weekend, let’s start with some good news we can all be happy about. The United Nations has declared internet access a human right, and has called upon all nations to not instate any laws that have the power to cut people off the internet, with France and the UK being singled out because they passed three strikes laws.
The report comes from the hand of Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. In it, La Rue expresses his concerns over several recent developments, such as arbitrary blocking and filtering of internet traffic, three strikes laws, complete internet blackouts during political unrest (Syria, Egypt), and so on. He believes that cutting users off from the internet violates several international treaties on human rights.
La Rue takes is concerned about governments using the guise of terrorism to censor content on the web. “Such laws are often justified as being necessary to protect individuals’ reputation, national security or to counter terrorism. However, in practice, they are frequently used to censor content that the Government and other powerful entities do not like or agree with,” he argues. See WikiLeaks, for instance.
When it comes to ridiculous three strikes laws promoted by people like Sarkozy, La Rue is pretty clear. “The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest,” he writes, “In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.”
“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States,” the report concludes, “Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all segments of population.”
It will not come as a surprise to you that I am in full agreement with declaring internet access a human right. Things like the French three strikes laws are wholly and utterly totalitarian, especially since individual citizens can do very little to protest against these disconnections. The fact that such a law has come into effect in a country which claims to be developed and free (France) clearly shows that despite all our western talk of spreading freedom and democracy, our own governments seem all to eager to disregard these values whenever it suits them.
Sadly, this report is just a first set of recommendations, which will be followed by countless rounds of negotiations to form a treaty on the subject. This means that most of these recommendations will probably be watered down until they become meaningless – so that our government can continue to try and curb the freedom of the web. It just goes to show that freedom of speech is a paper-thin construct that requires constant vigilance – not by governments, but by the people.