Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Disconnection violates international law

Back in April, the government abused urgency to ram the final stages of a guilt by accusation through Parliament. The law includes the option of mandatory disconnection from the internet, though this provision must be brought into force by an Order in Council. Now, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of expression has declared such laws to be a violation of international human rights norms.

The full details are in a report [PDF; UN doc A/HRC/17/27] by the Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council. After talking about the importance of the internet to freedom of expression, and some of the attempts by governments to control it, the Special Rapporteur concludes:

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.

The Special Rapporteur calls upon all States to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. 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.

This will matter. Our Supreme Court pays attention to UN human rights norms in interpreting the Bill of Rights Act (which is explicitly designed to implement them). So, the bar just got raised on disconnection. Which hopefully will mean that the government never implements it.