Internet Rights is a critical debate today in the Internet Governance circles. This news bit is not so late one must follow it if you are interested in Internet Rights or Human Rights on the Internet. For those readers that have not followed this through:
Earlier there was a famous case filed against iiNet Australia. iiNet was on the strangle after it was nabbed (case filed on 20th November 2008) by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) for allegedly allowing 100,000 illegal film, TV and music downloads through BitTorrent to occur during a 59 week period over their service. This Australian copyright case recieved all the fame it could because it tested provisions laid out in the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement's resultant copyright law and could set a precedent for many more similar lawsuits concerning the responsibility of Australian internet service providers with regards to copyright infringement via their services. [details of the case on Wikipedia.org]
Of course alot must have happened after that but I've been following the European Commission on this and on the recent proceedings of this case, I found out that the European Union has passed into law a set of internet rights to protect users from arbitrary crackdowns on people who illegally download music and movies. Whether or whether not the EU was encouraged by iiNet's example, I've been really looking forward to such news after Civil Society globally stepped in on promoting human rights on the Internet and encouraging countries, Internet governance structures and global organizations to recognize our basic human rights and their protection over the Internet.
You can read in more detail about the reforms on the IHS Website here but here is the provision presented for your information:
Annex 1 - The New Internet Freedom Provision
Article 1(3)a of the new Framework Directive: "Measures taken by member states regarding end-users' access to or use of services and applications through electronic communications networks shall respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and general principles of Community law.
Any of these measures regarding end-users' access to or use of services and applications through electronic communications networks liable to restrict those fundamental rights or freedoms may only be imposed if they are appropriate, proportionate and necessary within a democratic society, and their implementation shall be subject to adequate procedural safeguards in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and general principles of Community law, including effective judicial protection and due process. Accordingly, these measures may only be taken with due respect for the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy. A prior fair and impartial procedure shall be guaranteed, including the right to be heard of the person or persons concerned, subject to the need for appropriate conditions and procedural arrangements in duly substantiated cases of urgency in conformity with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The right to an effective and timely judicial review shall be guaranteed."
Source: European Commission (EC).
From what I have learnt so far, this reform was made after exploring the space for encouraging stronger consumer rights, an open internet, a single telecommunications market for Europe and improved bandwidth for consumers in future. This freedom provision comes out to eliminate the 'Three Strikes laws' enforced by many jurisdictions in EU to cut off repeat ‘offenders’ from the internet. The Three-strikes legislation allowed countries to disconnect internet users who were suspected of unlawful file-sharing of copyrighted material such as music or films, of course after sending them two warnings. Thus along with other consumer protections, the consumers are protected against having their internet connections arbitrarily cut-off as part of a government response to illegal downloading.
The controversy that surrounds the governments in the region would be that according to the no European member state might be able to cut off one of its citizens from the Internet without applying a due process of law taking into account "enshrining the presumption of innocence and the right to privacy into the application of online policy", meaning, all trials - must allow that EU citizens are entitled to a prior fair and impartial procedure, including the right to be heard, and they have a right to an effective and timely judicial review. Just like trials in our real world. For Civil Society this would be accepted with mixed feelings but not in its completeness. Let me see what the EU representatives at the IGF'09 have to say on this.