Tech Liberty NZ Defending civil liberties in the digital age

Internet disconnection is impractical

Posted on January 13, 2010

We've already discussed why disconnecting the Internet to punish someone is an inappropriate response. We don't cut off people's power or water if they commit a crime using them, and the Internet is becoming as important as those infrastructural services. We need the Internet to communicate with family, to perform our jobs, to deal with the government, for education and for entertainment. The Internet is becoming increasingly vital to participating in modern society.

But, ignoring this important point for now, there are also a number of practical reasons why Internet disconnection doesn't work as a punishment for downloading unauthorised material.

  • Internet connections are often shared by people who happen to live or work together. Why should a business or family lose their Internet connection just because one person misuses it?
  • The current proposal for amending the Copyright Act would only allow disconnection after a person has been found guilty of downloading unauthorised material a number of times, with the person being fined up to $15,000 each time. Is someone who is prepared to pay huge fines really going to be stopped by disconnection?
  • What does it actually mean to disconnect someone? If it means that their current account is closed, what will stop them from signing up for a new account with the same or a different Internet provider? And doesn't this discriminate against users in rural or remote areas where there might only be one provider.
  • Or is disconnection going to be a general ban on using the Internet in any way? Will this cover their home, where they work, their mobile phone? Will it be a crime for them to receive and read an email? How will anyone know if someone else lets them use their account?

We believe that punishing people by disconnecting their Internet is wrong in principle and impractical in practice. There are enough other ways to penalise people who break the law, we don't need Internet disconnection.

Posted by Thomas Beagle

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