The United Nations has declared Internet access a human right, and disconnecting people from it is against international law. The UN report explores the issues of Internet access in great detail, both on the infrastructural level and as a matter of access to content. “There should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in few, exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law,” the report says.
It recognizes that there are certain circumstances in which restricting the information flow on the Internet may be legitimate, such as cyber attacks. It also points out that states often misuse their power with this regard. “In many instances, states restrict, control, manipulate and censor content disseminated via the Internet without any legal basis, or on the basis of broad and ambiguous laws, without justifying the purpose of such actions (…) such actions are clearly incompatible with states’ obligations under international human rights law, and often create a broader ‘chilling effect’ on the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” the report says.
Finally, the report strongly recommends against disconnecting people from the Internet — often considered an anti-piracy measure, for example in France — under any circumstances. The report “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.”
The UN’s report echoes a European Parliament directive from 2008, which asked individual countries to “avoid adopting measures conflicting with civil liberties and human rights … such as the interruption of Internet access.” With both the EU and the UN calling Internet access a human right, we hope disconnecting people from the Internet as a form of punishment will soon be abandoned by governments around the world.
The full text of the report is available here.