United Nations: Internet access is a human right

United Nations: Internet access is a human right

Jul 6, 2012

The United Nations’ Human Rights Council passed a resolution yesterday declaring internet access is a basic human right.

Somewhat surprisingly, China was among the nations signing onto the notion, but only with the caveat included that the “free flow of information on the Internet and the safe flow of information on the Internet are mutually dependent.” The Chinese representative indicated that China would not stop its practice of closely monitoring (read: censoring) its internet communications anytime soon.

The debate around whether Internet access is a human right thrust itself onto the world stage during the Arab Spring, when Facebook and Twitter played pivotal roles in the uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere that would transform political dynamics in the region.

To the extent that internet communications are an extension of free speech, it make sense to the American ethos that the Internet should be a human right. But to the extent that it’s a business enterprise requiring capital investment from corporations to build, the argument can be made that its simply a market privilege like any other product.

Vint Cerf, one of the Internet’s original inventors, argued the Internet isn’t a human right in a hotly-disputed New York Times editorial last year, aptly called “Internet Access Is Not a Human Right.” Cerf wrote:

Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For 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.

Other early internet innovators, like Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, believe it is a human right. Mashable points out Berners-Lee told BBC, “[It's] an empowering thing for humanity to be connected at high speed and without borders.”

What do you think? Is the Internet a human right, or do you agree with Vint Cerf? Let us know below…

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