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.