The UK should revise or repeal the Digital Economy Act because it is wrong to disconnect internet users, according to a report due to be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday.
The UK should revise or repeal the Digital Economy Act because it is wrong to disconnect internet users, according to a report due to be adopted on Friday by the UN Human Rights Council.
Frank La Rue, the UN's special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, will present his report to the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the day the council holds major discussions about online freedoms. According to the report (PDF), disconnections should not be permissible even in cases of intellectual-property violation.
The Digital Economy Act, hurriedly passed in 2010 in the dying days of the Labour government, is a package of laws aimed at cracking down on copyright infringement. While it does not explicitly call for the disconnection of alleged unlawful file-sharers, it does leave scope for this to happen as a last resort.
La Rue said in his report that he was "alarmed by proposals to disconnect users from internet access if they violate intellectual property rights". He said such proposals included legislation based on the concept of graduated response, and specifically referred to the Digital Economy Act and France's 'three-strikes' Hadopi law as examples of this.
"The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an 'enabler' of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly," the report read.
By acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the internet also facilitates the realisation of a range of other human rights.– UN report
"Thus, by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the internet also facilitates the realisation of a range of other human rights," it added.
La Rue's report also noted that, while the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta) no longer includes provisions for disconnecting intellectual-property violators, "the special rapporteur remains watchful about the treaty's eventual implications for intermediary liability and the right to freedom of expression".
On Thursday, the UK's Open Rights Group (ORG) said it was writing to culture secretary Jeremy Hunt — who once described the act as "a weak, dithering and incompetent attempt to breathe life into Britain's digital economy" before voting it into law — to ask him whether he agreed with La Rue's assessment that states should "repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws".
"We would be very grateful to know if you concur with the UN special rapporteur's views, and whether you will be responding to his recommendations to the Human Rights Council that the UK should repeal its legislation providing for disconnection or suspensions of individual for alleged copyright violations," ORG's letter read.
The Digital Economy Act was the subject of a recent, failed legal challenge by TalkTalk and BT, and the ISPs renewed their case against it on 27 May. They argue that the act contravenes EU legislation covering privacy, freedom of information and the role of ISPs in copyright enforcement.
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