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Is internet access a basic human right?
A U.N. report blasts European laws that boot illegal downloaders off the web — arguing that web access has become an essential part of life
 
French and British legislators are considering punishing repeat illegal-downloading offenders by taking them offline: The U.N. says such rules violate international law.
French and British legislators are considering punishing repeat illegal-downloading offenders by taking them offline: The U.N. says such rules violate international law.
Martin Ruetschi/Keystone/Corbis

Life, liberty... and the right to download Glee? The United Nations considers them all to be basic rights, according to a new report responding to proposed French and British laws that would punish people convicted of illegally downloading copyrighted music and movies by banning them permanently from the internet. The report came out on a day when two thirds of Syria's web access was cut off as the country's rulers fight pro-democracy protesters. The authors say all such efforts to disconnect people violate international law, because the internet is a vital tool for promoting justice and equality. Is internet access — and, thus, file-sharing — really a fundamental right?

Yes, free people deserve (and need) the internet:
The internet is not just "a geeky pastime," says Toby Shapshak at Times Live. It's a part of everyday life, and one that mobilizes, informs, and is "the grease of most revolutions." The U.N. is just recognizing that these days people need the internet as surely as they need "access to drinking water, housing, and freedom of speech."
"Breaking down the barriers"

And internet-hating dictators must be stopped: Despots across the Middle East recognized the power of the internet early and "attempted to cut it from their citizens' lives," says Nicholas Jackson at The Atlantic. Someone has to counter that trend. And the U.N. isn't alone. Estonia wisely passed a law declaring internet access as a basic human right back in 2000.
"United Nations calls internet access a basic human right"

It should be, but isn't, and a "toothless" report won't change that: "Given the limited punitive powers of the United Nations," this report is "at best a diplomatic tongue lashing" for governments that try to silence critics by cutting off their internet access, says Earnest "Nex" Cavalli at The Escapist. The U.N. report doesn't trigger any action against those regimes, and does nothing to prevent future internet outages, making it a "relatively toothless defense against totalitarian rulers."
"United Nations claims internet blackouts violate human rights"

 

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