France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, has ruled that access to the Internet is a basic human right in a decision striking down a key component of the a new internet piracy law by the Sarkozy administration.
The new law creates HADOPI, an agency that would track abusers of the Internet and cut off their access after two warnings. It is primarily designed not to stop spam and scams but people who download material illegally.
Known at the “wise men” or Les Sages, the council ruled that “free access to public communication services online” is protected in the Declaration of Human Rights which is part of the French constitution.
The controversy has produced an interesting political shift. Artists who normally fight against governmental controls over free speech and open forums of communications supported the law. They insisted that people were stealing their music and art and should be barred from the Internet. However, the law also gave this agency nearly unchecked authority to mete out punishments.
The ruling also reflects how important the Internet has become as the primary form of communication and information for citizens around the world.
While the media has reported the opinion as protecting access as a human right, some of our readers who are French indicate that the opinion may not be as sweeping as suggested. They note that much of the opinion objected to the role of the agency. The Internet is an avenue used to fulfill a basic human right but could still, they suggest, be terminated.