Today’s concept of “the pursuit of happiness”?

One of the most famous phrases in the Declaration of Independence is that our “unalienable” rights include “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” In today’s technological age, France’s Constitutional Council may have come up with a new take on the concept.

“The internet is a fundamental human right that cannot be taken away by anything other than a court of law, [and] only when guilt has been established there,” the council said in invalidating parts of a measure that would have been one of the world’s toughest against illegal downloading. The law would have created an agency charged with policing the internet. The agency would have the power to send illegal file-sharers a warning e-mail, then a letter, and then cut off their Internet access for a year if they were caught a third time.

The latter provision led the council to invalidate that aspect of the law. While recognizing that theft of copyrighted material was a crime, it concluded the structure of the law was contrary to the presumption of innocence, a fundamental principle of French government since the French Revolution.

The council, which reviews legislation approved by the French Parliament before it goes into effect, also said the law raised free speech concerns. According to the council, freedom of speech implies freedom to access the Internet because of “its importance for the participation in democratic life and the expression of ideas and opinions.”

Legal recognition of Internet access as a fundamental right shows just how much technology has changed society, particularly for those of us who remember 8-track tapes and touch tone phones as cutting edge technology.

As every man is presumed innocent until he has been declared guilty, if it should be considered necessary to arrest him, any undue harshness that is not required to secure his person must be severely curbed by Law.

Article 9, French Declaration of the Human Rights (1789)

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