January 28, 2013

Germany rules internet “essential”


I want my DSL.

A landmark ruling regarding internet access passed in Germany last week: the internet, at least in Germany, is an “essential” part of life, and if you’re deprived of it, you have another form of recourse, besides swearing and hitting stuff.

The ruling resolves a case brought by a man who was unable to use his DSL connection for two months from late 2008 to early 2009. He had already been compensated by the service provider for the loss of his landline and fax service, but the plaintiff claimed that he was entitled to further compensation for the lost internet access and a judge in the Federal Court of Karlsruhe agreed. From the ruling (translated in part here, available in German here):

Due to easy access to information, the Internet has overtaken the role of mass media such as encyclopedias, print press and TV. It allows global exchange between the users, such as through the email, forums, blogs and social media. Besides, it is becoming more and more crucial for negotiating and striking deals, as well as fulfillment of public service obligations … Most people in Germany use the internet daily. Thus it has become an essential medium in the life of the society, the disruption of which has an immediately impact on the course of everyday life …

This follows a 2009 ruling in France that declared that internet access was a basic human right, and other similar rulings in Finland, Estonia, Greece, and Spain. The European Union is also currently contemplating new regulations concerning data privacy, regulations that would require companies that collect data from users to inform them about what data is being collected and for what purpose, and that would also given consumers more control over how long that data is retained by these companies.

One of the rights under discussion, perhaps the most melancholic, beautiful right of them all is the so-called “right to be forgotten,” which, stripped of all the autumnal beauty of that phrase, just means that consumers can ask for all their data on a particular site to be deleted forever. The consequences of invoking the “right to be forgotten” could overlap with free speech law, as Jeffrey Rosen points out in The Atlantic. And it may also be extremely difficult to actually put into place, since data can be (and is) so easily copied, saved, and passed around, with or without the help of companies like Facebook and Google, who might most immediately be effected by such a right — the old decentralized ARPA bones of the internet still coming into play. However, the Karlsruhe ruling and the impending decision on the General Data Protection Regulation, as it’s officially called, are bound to shape and possibly change EU internet use definitively.




Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.