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Sex offender asks Norwegian Supreme Court to declare access to social media a human right

STAVANGER, Norway – A convicted sex offender is asking Norway’s Supreme Court to declare access to social media a human right.

The case, which will be heard in court on Thursday, involves a man who molested and used a minor Snapchat Messaging app to connect with little boys.

The unknown perpetrator was sentenced last year to 13 months in prison and a two-year ban on using Snapchat.

His lawyers argue that depriving him of his account would be unlawful under the European Convention on Human Rights.

The case centers on how important social media has become to free speech, although the court must decide the case under laws that predate such sites.

“The case raises important questions about the extent to which the state can restrict access to social media platforms, which are important tools for exercising the right to free expression and maintaining social connections,” said defense attorney John Christian Elden.

An appeal against the ban filed in November 2023 failed on the state’s grounds that it was “proportionately assessed based on the fact that the defendant used Snapchat to sexually exploit children.” The appeal court added that he still had the right to use other social media. If the Supreme Court also upholds the decision, the perpetrator could try to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The European convention has previously been used to test the limits of Norwegian justice. Anders Behring Breivik, the right-wing extremist who murdered 77 people in 2011, lost a court challenge in February in which he argued that solitary confinement while serving his sentence constituted inhumane punishment under the convention.

The signatories of the ECHR commit to respecting 18 articles that guarantee citizens rights such as life, liberty and freedom of expression. Norway was the second country, after Norway, to ratify the convention in 1952 Great Britain.

Snapchat, operated by Snap Inc., allows users to send and receive messages that disappear once read. Users can also physically locate other users who choose to be tracked.

Snap prohibits child sexual exploitation on the app, but allows accounts to be created anonymously. It said in an email: “When we disable accounts for sexual exploitation and grooming behavior, we also take steps to prevent the associated device and other accounts associated with the user from creating another Snapchat account.”

Snap disabled 343,865 accounts related to child sexual exploitation in the second half of 2023. In Norway, 879 accounts were sanctioned, although it is not clear how many of these were permanently disabled.

The Norwegian court will announce its verdict in the coming weeks.

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