For nearly two decades, two U.S. statutes have provided redress to victims of human rights abuses: the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victim Protection Act. A handful of plaintiffs have recovered under these laws against foreign perpetrators of a narrow range of human rights violations. The growth and proliferation of communications technology raises important questions about how these statutes will be used in the future. Human rights activists have discovered that they can instantly communicate over the Internet with supporters and news media anywhere in the world. Repressive regimes have responded by attempting to restrict such communications. Could cutting an activist's access to the Internet give rise to a human rights claim in U.S. courts? No one has yet sued under the Alien Tort Statute or the Torture Victim Protection Act as a result of disrupted Internet access, but such litigation is foreseeable as the Internet is increasingly used for human rights reporting. I submit that these statutes can provide the means of bringing suits against individuals or foreign states which suppress reports on torture sent over the Internet. Part II of this note lays the foundation for this argument by briefly examining the Alien Tort Statute. This law creates a cause of action in U.S. district courts for violations of those human rights which are part of the "law of nations." Part III demonstrates that the law of nations encompasses a right to freedom of information concerning information on acts of torture, and that any violation of this right should be actionable. Part III also explores choice of law and damages issues faced by human rights claimants. Part IV explains how suppressing Internet reports on torture can constitute complicity in torture, providing a second basis for a cause of action under the Alien Tort Statute, as amended by the Torture Victim Protection Act. Part V examines additional barriers confronting torture victim claimants: sovereign immunity, the act of state doctrine, and the political question doctrine. Part VI discusses the need for legislative reform to ensure that meritorious claims for violations of the freedom of information and the prohibition on torture can be brought in federal court.
Law of Nations in Cyberspace: Fashioning a Cause of Action for the Supression of Human Rights Reports on the Internet ,
Mich. Telecomm. & Tech. L. Rev.
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mttlr/vol4/iss1/6