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Sex offender asks Norway’s Supreme Court to declare social media access is a human right

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STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — A convicted sex offender is asking the Norwegian Supreme Court to declare that social media access is a human right.

The case before the court Thursday involves a man who molested a minor and used the Snapchat messaging app to connect with young boys.

The unidentified offender was sentenced last year to 13 months in prison and banned from using Snapchat for two years.

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

The case turns on how vital social media have become for freedom of expression, even though the court must decide the case through 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 significant tools for exercising the right to freedom of expression and maintaining social connections,” defense lawyer John Christian Elden said.

A November 2023 appeal against the ban failed with the state successfully arguing it was “proportionately measured against the fact that the defendant has used Snapchat to exploit children sexually.” The Appeal Court added that he still had the right to use other social media. If the Supreme Court also upholds the decision, the offender could attempt to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The European convention has been used before to test the limits on Norwegian justice. Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right extremist who murdered 77 people in 2011, lost a court challenge in February that argued being held in isolation while serving his prison sentence amounted to inhumane punishment under the convention.

Signatories to the ECHR agree to abide by 18 articles guaranteeing citizens rights including life, liberty and freedom of expression. Norway was the second country to ratify the convention in 1952, after the United Kingdom.

Snapchat, run by Snap Inc., allows users to send and receive messages that disappear once they are read. Users also can physically locate other users who opt in to location tracking.

Snap prohibits child sexual exploitation on the app but allows accounts to be create anonymously. In an email it said, “when we disable accounts for sexual exploitation and grooming behavior, we also take steps to block the associated device and other accounts connected to the user from creating another Snapchat account.”

Snap disabled 343,865 accounts connected with child sexual exploitation in the second half of 2023. It sanctioned 879 accounts in Norway though it is not clear how many of these were permanently disabled.

The Norwegian court will issue its ruling in the coming weeks.

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