Is Internet Access a Right?

Posted on January 30, 2011


Since Mubarak killed the internet last week, talk of what rights people have to information from and communication on the internet have been all over the web.  A dear blogger friend, ArleneArmy has pointed out that to shut down our access to pay our bills on time is not right either.

So it is clear that there are many rights involved in shutting down the internet including freedom of the Press. Many newspapers have gone totally or almost totally digital.  And then there are the innumerable bloggers who have followings and need to maintain them via successful posts.

Here is an article from Forbes that is just what the doctor ordered:

Is Internet access a basic human right?

Jan. 29 2011 – 1:36 pm
By STEVE DENNING

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...Image via Wikipedia

I was listening last night to President Obama’s remarks to reporters about the turmoil in Egypt, and I was curious when he said:

The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.

I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they’ve taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cell phone service, and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st Century.

President Obama came close here to saying that access to the Internet is a basic human right. Is Web access a basic human right? If so, how did this happen?

What is a basic human right?

According to the Wikipedia:

Human rights are “rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.” Proponents of the concept usually assert that everyone is endowed with certain entitlements merely by reason of being human. Human rights are thus conceived in a universalist and egalitarian fashion… However, there is no consensus as to the precise nature of what in particular should or should not be regarded as a human right… and the abstract concept of human rights has been a subject of intense philosophical debate and criticism.

Many of the basic ideas that animated the movement developed in the aftermath of the Second World War, culminating in its adoption by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. It declared:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Do basic human rights include the Web?

The first country in the world to make access to the Internet a legal right was Finland, which made 1 megabyte Internet broadband access a legal right in 2009.

In March 2010, a BBC survey of 27,000 adults across 26 countries found that almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is “a fundamental right”.

“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News. “The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created….  governments must regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water. We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”

Apparently President Obama was listening. Will President Mubarak agree?

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Article above from Forbes.