While I was doing some research for a recent post about digital locks, I came across this post by Dwayne Winseck on the Globe and Mail website. In it, he discusses the trend of countries adopting laws requiring ISPs to “block access to websites that facilitate illicit downloading and cut-off Internet service for those who use such sites.”
An interesting and controversial topic, indeed, but what really caught my attention was something near the end of the post. I’ll quote it verbatim:
“Supporters claim that the “graduated response” [e.g., three-strikes rules] and digital intermediary [ISP] strategy have a minimal impact on individual liberties, but a recent UN Internet & Human Rights minced no words when arguing exactly the opposite point of view:
. . . cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, is disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 19 sets out worldwide standards for freedom of opinion and expression rights.”
Let’s leave to one side for a moment the full implications of this quote; I want to focus on Mr. Winseck’s use of it in his discussion of graduated response. He seems to be implying that cutting off someone’s home Internet service is a violation of their “civil and political rights.”
What a load of hooey. (Yes, you heard me, hooey.) Cutting off your home Internet access is not in any way the same as “cutting off users from Internet access.” That latter implies banning someone from using any Internet access anywhere. A very different thing.
Let me use an analogy to illustrate. Imagine that you own a small grocery store and a guy is coming into your store and shoplifting regularly. Finally, you become fed up and ban him from the store. That is not the same as cutting off his access to food.
When you look at it that way, I think it changes the interpretation a bit. Imagine an alternate reality where ISPs are private, unregulated businesses offering and pricing services based on market forces. Further imagine that you were the owner of such an ISP and you knew that someone to whom you were providing service was using their access to serially infringe copyright. This person was basically using the Internet only to illegally amass copyrighted materials. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for you, as the ISP owner, to want to do your part to prevent this person from breaking the law? I think it would be very reasonable for you, as the ISP owner, to say, “Hey, bub, if you want to break the law, do it over someone else’s Internet connection.”
Finally, I want to note that, even if you accept that Internet access is a human right (which I’m not yet prepared to say I do), that does not mean that access can never be denied under any circumstance. Liberty is a human right too, but it can be taken away if you commit a serious enough crime.
What do you think? Comments are welcome.