So the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, dropped the human rights hammer this week on ‘3-strikes’ laws — laws that mandate internet disconnection as a penalty for online copyright infringement. His report is one of the strongest official statements yet to describe Internet access as part of a fundamental right to expression that supersedes intellectual property rights:
The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Even if nobody outside the UN knows what the ICCPR is, the symbolism here is potent and a sign of the emergence of a richer rights discourse around Internet use. Richer, that is, than the existing rights discourse, which built almost solely around copyright claims. The La Rue report is evidence that that larger repertoire of rights language–including freedom of expression, privacy, and more diffusely articulated civil and economic rights–is finally being brought into play. And the report also illustrates some of the limitations of that repertoire. Continue reading “You’re Out, 3-Strikes!”