Internet Access as a Human Right

As established consumers of it, I think it’s safe to say we all have some sense of entitlement to the Internet. Don’t we deserve to use it? Shouldn’t it be for everyone?

The U.N thinks so. In 2011, the U.N. declared Internet access a human right, stating that disconnecting people from it violates human rights and international law. It is important to note that it is the access to the Internet and not the Internet itself that has been declared a human right. Access to a censored Internet (not the open Internet we are familiar with) is another animal entirely.

The Internet as we know it today was developed by DARPA, a branch of the U.S. Department of Defense that creates new technologies for military use, and funded by the Pentagon in the early 1960s. And though one of the Internet’s founders, Vint Cerf, supports that the Internet is for everyone, he does not see it as a human right in itself. It is an important tool of communication that allows people to exercise their rights in new ways, he says, but it is just that: a tool. He provides this example:

“At one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse.”

The fundamental issue, Cerf argues, lies with “the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights.” In other words, online architecture must protect as well as empower users, not oppress or hurt them. His cases are so strong, I have to agree with him. Internet access should not be roped into human essentials like the right to life or liberty. To me, it makes sense that the Internet is regarded as tool for exercising these rights, albeit one that has become an indispensable addition to our lives as U.S. citizens, but not a right in itself.

Currently, more than two-thirds of the world does not have Internet access, Mother Jones reports. If Internet access becomes widely regarded as a human right, what is to be done with the billions of people who have never, because they cannot, get online? How could such a right ever be enforced?

I welcome your thoughts.

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1 Response to Internet Access as a Human Right

  1. This is a very interesting point that you make. Within the last 10 years or so, you begin to see, at least in the United States, the effort to make the internet more accessible to everyone, even those who can’t afford a computer. This is noticeable in public libraries where now everyone has the opportunity to get a free public membership and have access to public internet. Whether it is fair or not, I think the whole issue of the internet comes down to money. Companies have switched over to the use of the internet instead of paying to advertise because it is cheaper and more easily accessible, and a way to reach a larger audience. The old argument comes into play with, “why would one pay for something that they can get for free?” And I don’t blame these companies. As a result, and although I don’t necessarily agree with it, there is no way that technology creators will work to support the human and civil right idea that internet should be available to everyone. In my opinion, you would really need to shut down the internet and start from scratch in order to allow the billions of people who have never been able to access the internet before. I feel there is too much money built up in the internet world and so many jobs that depend directly on the internet that would prevent the creators from simply saying, “lets help all the people who don’t have access to the internet.” As a result, in my opinion, there is no realistic way that the right to the internet could ever be enforced. It might not be fair, but it’s reality.

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