Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Internet? A Human Right?

The Times of London had an interesting article early this month, it was entitled "Is Internet Access now a human right?". The reason for the article is the fact that England is attempting to deal with internet piracy by threatening to cut off access to the Internet over those who are chronic abusers of piracy. Again, it's all about piracy, the government over there wants to ensure that people who download the latest whatever, music, movie, ebook, application, will never be allowed on the Internet ever again.

It's nothing the average ISP ( Internet Service Provider) want to be put in over there, it means they are effectively snitches for the music and movie industry. They are the spy on what each and every one of their consumers are doing at any one time. This was tried in France. The government attempted to enact a "three strikes and out" law in which scofflaws who abuse internet piracy would lose the right to access for the rest of their lives. The High Court struck it down, by the way. The Court ruled such a restriction is a violation of human rights, which is good for them. The rest of the EU however does not share this same view, an article Business Week declared that Europe was giving up on declaring Internet access a human right.

Much of this is being spurred on by the negotiations for the Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement, a new treaty to deal with international counterfeiting. Now when you think of counterfeiting, you may think of a group printing phony money, or a sweatshop some place knocking off a bunch of purses or shirts all bearing some brand name, or even Rolex watches. Certainly we can understand the need for rules to watch and control that, much of what is conterfeit is cheap, awful and potentially dangerous. However many have pointed out this treaty has more to do with intellectual property, rather then classic counterfeiting. In fact some have wondered if this is an anti-counterfeiting treaty, or a copyright treaty.

One of the problems with this treaty and there are a lot, is the fact it is being negotiated in secrecy. A document from the European Commission for Trade has this comment at the end:
As agreed among ACTA participatns, the negotiating papers are not public documents and therefore should be treated with reserve.

This is the Internet however, and nothing can remain a secret very long, can it? One of the leading proponents for Internet freedom, Dr. Michael Geist has almost been single-handed in his exposure of this travesty. His one article examines the chapters dealing with the Internet and it's not pretty. Many believe that acceptance of this treaty will lead to the establishment of a global 'three strikes and you're out' policy. The treaty contains information on protecting ISP from lawsuits when they act as agents of the State. As well, it will mean border guards will have the right to seize things such as mp3 players and laptops they believe contain pirated material. Now how these people will be able to discern downloaded from ripped is beyond me, I wonder if you ever have to cross an international border and have your ipod, you better bring all the cd's that have the music on it, otherwise you may be saying bye-bye to your player. I suspect this may happen the closer we come to a major holiday. What better way to get gifts for your loved one then seizing them at the border.

Truly the more you read about this treaty, the nastier it comes. Boing Boing has this article.

I've got more to say about this in an upcoming blog.

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