by Catherine M. Gray, Associate Manuscripts Editor
Just before Valentine’s Day, a Racine County Circuit Court judge banned a Wisconsin resident from using the Internet for thirty months.1 Jason Willis, a thirty-one year old resident of Waterford, created a Craigslist ad requesting “nude male suitors” using his neighbor’s picture and address.2 As one might imagine, Willis’ neighbor “Dawn” was shocked when several men arrived at her door, one wearing only a trench coat.3 In banning Willis from the Internet, Judge Allen Torhost declared, “[i]f you want to drive drunk, you’re not allowed to drive. To me, a public availability of the internet [sic]—to use it the way he did—is unconscionable.”4
But did Judge Torhost’s violate Willis’ human rights? A 2011 United Nations report declared “that disconnecting people from the internet [sic] is a human rights violation and against international law.”5 While the report focused on the United Kingdom and France’s efforts to block individuals accused of illegal file sharing and countries who would block Internet access to “quell political unrest,” it calls into question whether Judge Torhost’s decision in some way violated Willis’ fundamental rights in modern society.6 In the United States, higher courts than Judge Torhost’s have declared banning an individual from the Internet is an appropriate remedy.7 Nevertheless, there is a question of whether, in a society and work industry so intrinsically linked to the Internet, banning an individual from being online constitutes a human rights violation. Will the individual be able to secure and maintain employment? Does the answer to that question really matter?
Despite the United Nations’ assertion that the Internet is a human right, I’m inclined to agree with Judge Torhost and the Eleventh Circuit here. Recently, Miranda Barbour admitted to killing more than twenty individuals across the United States, lured to their deaths through Craigslist.8 The use of the Internet for the purposes of harassment, child pornography, and even murder does much to counter the U.N.’s argument for a human right to the World Wide Web. In these cases, I see little wrong with banning convicted offenders from using the Internet, even permanently. Part of being a productive, contributing member of society is acting responsibly, and Judge Torhost got it right when he likened use of the Internet to driving. The Internet, like the driving, is a privilege, not a right, and abuse of a privilege means it’s revoked.
1 Cody Holyoke, Judge: Waterford man ‘banned from Internet, Today’s TMJ4 (Feb. 11, 2014), http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/news/Judge-Waterford-man-banned-from-Internet-245097211.html.
2 Taylor Berman, Man Banned From the Internet for Sending Naked Men to Neighbor’s Home, Gawker (Feb. 13, 2014, 10:08 AM), http://gawker.com/man-banned-from-the-internet-for-sending-naked-men-to-1522072855.
5 David Kravets, U.N. Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right, Wired (June 2, 2011, 2:47 PM), http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/06/internet-a-human-right/.
6 Id., see also Greg Sandoval, U.K. embraces ‘three strikes’ for illegal file sharing, CNET (Apr. 8, 2010, 8:35 AM), http://news.cnet.com/8301-31001_3-20002018-261.html.
7 United States v. Dove, 343 F. App’x 428, 430 (11th Cir. 2009) (upholding the defendant’s lifetime ban from the Internet as a condition of supervised release following a conviction for “traveling in interstate commerce with intent to engage in illicit conduct with a person under the age of 18 years, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b), (f)”); see also David Kravets, U.S. Courts Split on Internet Bans, Wired (Jan. 12, 2010, 5:11 PM), http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/01/courts-split-on-internet-bans/.
8 John Bacon, Accused Craigslist killer claims more slayings, USA Today (Feb. 17, 2014, 12:32 PM), http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/02/16/pa-barbour-craigslist-murders-interview/5526113/.