Is internet access a human right?

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Right to Internet access
La Rue thus emphasizes "Each state should thus develop a concrete and effective policy to make the Internet widely available, accessible, and affordable to all segments of population. The ITU has recently come under fire after rumors arose that member states were preparing proposals to give the United Nations more control over the Internet ahead of a December conference. Media attention has focused on attempts to implement such an approach in France see the HADOPI law [39] and the UK see the Digital Economy Act , though the approach, or variations of it, has been implemented in a number of other countries, or attempts are made to do so. Brian Schepis, a colleague of Cerf at Google, defends Cerf's conclusion on the grounds that advocates for a human right to the Internet improperly define the qualifications of a human right. The Internet's role in securing this right has been noted by human rights scholars and activists in several ways.


The UN Declares Internet Access a Basic Human Right

The government subsequently backed down over the issue, but the Act remains controversial. Interestingly, the UK Court of Appeal has agreed with the sentiment of the UN report, although without expressing its conclusion in terms of human rights.

The court ruled that the internet was an "essential part of everyday living" and therefore, a complete ban on use in this case would be disproportionate.

This was expressed very wide terms, and it is difficult to imagine many scenarios where a complete ban would be permitted by law. Lord Justice Hughes said:.

However, full internet bans have occasionally been permitted by the courts. Mr Justice Silber ruled in the November case of AM v Secretary of State for the Home Department see Rosalind English's post that a full internet ban placed upon a terrorist suspect subject to a control order a highly restrictive anti-terrorism power was lawful.

It should be noted that the successor to control orders, the TPIM, no longer permits complete internet bans. Interestingly, in AM the judge accepted the security services' evidence that it would be practically impossible to monitor the suspect's internet use, due in part to vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system. This sounds highly debatable, but perhaps that technical argument will be had on another day. Ultimately, it seems that the current position in UK law - reflecting but not wholly endorsing the UN report - is that internet access will remain, reflecting freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR , a qualified right.

Indeed, the UN Report accepts that in some scenarios internet access will need to be restricted, for example in the case of sex offenders and terrorist suspects — which is also the conclusion of this excellent post on Inforrm's blog. This is a question which will certainly be revisited in the coming years.

Whether the UN or Vint Cerf is right on a philosophical level as to whether internet access should be characterised as a human right, technology is changing rapidly and the courts will have to do their best to keep up. Whether or not it is a human right in its own respect, the internet provides the gateway to other freedoms, notably freedom of expression and the right to family and private life and therefore access to can be, practically, inseparable from the rights themselves.

It is highly unlikely that internet access will ever attain the status of an absolute right. However, the current position of UK courts rightly makes it very difficult indeed for the state to ban completely a citizen's use of the internet, however strong the justification.

Vint Cerf, a so-called "father of the internet" and a vice-president at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right: The best way to characterise human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure.

These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring internet access a human right, acknowledged that the internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. While the US has never decreed that everyone has a "right" to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of "universal service" — the idea that telephone service and electricity, and now broadband internet must be available even in the most remote regions of the country.

When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government. Moreover, his means versus ends characterisation of rights is philosophically incoherent, for: We further resolve to strengthen the rule of law in international as in national affairs.

The WSIS Declaration of Principles makes specific reference to the importance of the right to freedom of expression in the " Information Society " in stating:.

We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society , and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression ; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers. A poll of 27, adults in 26 countries, including 14, Internet users, [3] conducted for the BBC World Service between 30 November and 7 February found that almost four in five Internet users and non-users around the world felt that access to the Internet was a fundamental right.

In May , the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue , submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council "exploring key trends and challenges to the right of all individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through the Internet".

The report made 88 recommendations on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression online, including several to secure access to the Internet for all. Other recommendations call on states to respect online anonymity, adopt privacy and data protection laws, and to decriminalize defamation.

La Rue's recommendations explained that: Media coverage of the report suggested that La Rue had declared Internet access itself a human right by emphasising that "the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom and expression". In July and August the Internet Society conducted online interviews of more than 10, Internet users in 20 countries.

In response to the statement "Access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right": In Summer of , the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments.

Several countries have adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual's access to information and the Internet:. The right to Internet access is closely linked to the right of freedom of speech which can be seen to encompass freedom of expression as well. Two key facets of the Internet are highlighted by Stephanie Borg Psaila - the Internet's content and the Internet's infrastructure.

The content loaded onto the Internet however is seen as something that should be available to all, with few or no restrictions; limits on content have been viewed as the key breach of human rights, namely the right to freedom of speech. This has threatened governing regimes and lead to many censoring or cutting Internet service in times of crisis. Both nations use extensive firewall systems to block any information from the Internet which they perceive to be offensive or threatening to their regimes.

In contrast to this, censorship which has been initiated by the United States is focused more on the protection of intellectual property. The removal or censorship of Internet in turn could be seen as a breach of the human right of freedom of speech. One such particular incident was in Egypt, where the government of Hosni Mubarak shut down the Internet a number of times during the uprising in an attempt to suppress the protests, which happened during the Arab Spring.

Even though services were only cut off for a few days, this stifled Egyptians' ability to access basic services — such as ambulances — which has been blamed by some for escalating the death toll of protesters. In the report to the OSCE on Internet access as a fundamental human right, Professor Yaman Akdenian states that the right to freedom of expression must be universal including the technology which will enable it. Restrictions on this right and any mediums required to fulfill it should only be permitted if they comply with international norms and are balanced again the public interest.

Furthermore, the author noted that new technologies which arise in aiding the freedom of expression will require new approaches. Thus rules governing the use of non-digital media cannot be assumed to apply to digital media too. Furthermore, it was also noted in the paper presented to the OSCE that extra measures should be taken to ensure vulnerable groups such as children have access to Internet and literacy programs.

The right to development is a third generation right recognized by the UN General Assembly. The Internet's role in securing this right has been noted by human rights scholars and activists in several ways. Increasing access to the Internet can, for example, improve low income individuals' access to financial services such as savings accounts and enable online trading.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue , in his report to the UN Human Rights Council emphasised that "without Internet access, which facilitates economic development and the enjoyment of a range of human rights, marginalized groups and developing States remain trapped in a disadvantaged situation, thereby perpetuating inequality both within and between States".

Traditionally the right to freedom of assembly covered peaceful gatherings such as protests in physical public spaces such as town squares but as technology progresses we are seeing a revolution in the way people meet and interact.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has stated, "cyber space, after all, is the public square of the 21st century". Even signing an online petition has been known to cause arrests and the internet has become a useful tool in the organization of protest movements and demonstrations. It is widely recognized that without the contribution of the Internet and social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook recent political events such as the Arab Spring could not have occurred, or at least not to the same extent.

Internet access was also pivotal in the Occupy movement. A collective of journalists involved in the movement stated in regards to access to internet, "[a]ccess to open communications platforms is critical for the human species evolution and survival". Implementing the right to Internet access can be accomplished by requiring that universal service providers provide a mandatory minimum connection capability to all desiring home users in the regions of a country they serve.

Much of the Spanish speaking world has celebrated Internet Day since , including many initiatives of increasing network access. Panama has "infoplazas" [32] which are places of free Internet access.

High-profile criticism of the notion that access to the Internet should be considered a human right comes from Vint Cerf who is often dubbed the "father of the Internet".

Cerf claims that internet access cannot be a right in itself. Cerf sums up his argument when he states "Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. Cerf concedes the Internet plays an important role in civil participation which leads him to conclude that Internet access should be a civil right, but he does not agree with it being afforded the higher status of a human right.

This article has sparked much debate online about the scope of human rights and whether Internet access should be afforded that status. Many have pointed to weaknesses in Cerf's argument.