Back in March of last year, we reported that a BBC World Service global poll found that 79% of people believe that Internet access is a fundamental right. Within the same poll, 87% of Internet users went even further and said that Internet access should be a “fundamental right of all people.” A recent United Nations report seems to agree with that sentiment.The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council which makes the case that Internet access is also a human right. The report states that the Internet has become an important medium upon which human expression occurs. Limitation of that expression via the arbitrary blocking or filtering of content with the exception of child pornography, criminalization of legitimate expression, cyber-attacks, and disconnection of Internet access are all highlighted in the report as areas of concern. Disconnection of Internet access and the blocking or filtering of content has drawn increasing attention due to uprisings in the Middle East that were met with such limitations on human expression.AdChoices广告One point made in the report that may have some intellectual property right lawyers a bit concerned is the notion that a person’s Internet access should not be limited even if that limitation is the result of violations of intellectual property law. It is not uncommon for hackers and those who have been found to offer copyrighted music and video online to have a sentence imposed upon them which limits their Internet access. Such limitations on access could span months or even years.The Special Rapporteur went on to highlight in the report the need for better protections on intermediaries, which includes Internet access providers, and a person’s right to privacy with the inclusion of data protection.Read more at the UN report (PDF)Brian’s OpinionIt is clear that governments and the legal system still struggle when it comes to the Internet and how far a person’s right to access the Internet must be balanced against the use of the Internet for criminal purposes. While it may seem like a pretty black and white decision to cut off Internet access to someone who violates the law using the Internet as a medium, more thought needs to go into such actions considering how much the Internet is used as a medium of expression. Of course, I’ll be the first to point out that we must at times limit expression for the greater good.For example, the freedom of expression does not protect someone who runs into a public building and screams “fire” to cause a panic. Yet, such action, even though it is deemed as criminal, shouldn’t lead to a person being forced to having their mouth sown shut. On the other hand, we are pretty quick to shut someone up when it comes to their ability to get on the Internet and speak out.I am not naive enough to sit here and say there are no scenarios where in order to protect the public someone should be cut off from the Internet. What I am saying though, which I believe is also the point the report is making, is that special consideration needs to be given before limiting a person’s Internet access.