You have the right to freedom from slavery and torture.
You have the right to nationality.
You have the right to Facebook?
Internet access is a human right, according to a United Nations report released last week. You can view a list of the other rights in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Internet has become an “indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress,” according to Frank La Rue’s report. The Internet is “one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies,” in La Rue’s perspective, according to a technology blog from the LA Times. Note: You also can read the full report on the Times website.
More than two billion people worldwide use the Internet, with 600 million people on Facebook, according to the report.
Because of these democratic uses, La Rue argues that ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a governmental priority to promote freedom of expression and opinion.
This sounds like a wonderful cause, but there is a strong need for further consideration.
In the name of democracy, individuals should be able to express themselves freely online without fear of government retribution. Along this same vein, no one should have an on/off switch for the Internet, nor should they be allowed to censor legal content on the basis that they disagree with it.
We don’t all live in democracies. It is arrogant to think that every country desires or can function appropriately as a democratic society.
It also is true that information is essential to the democratic process, but that doesn’t mean it is the government’s responsibility to make sure every individual has equal access to information online.
In the 21st Century there are more methods of communication than ever before – telephones, books, magazines, newspapers, mail service, television, radio, and, yes, the Internet. Isn’t it equally as concerning for the government to determine that some of these mediums are more critical to democracy than others?
La Rue based his Internet defense on the two-way, interactive nature of the Internet, which he wrote makes individuals “active publishers of information,” and is, therefore, unlike any other communication medium.
Cable television gives broad access to information and differing of opinions. Is it a basic human right?
The Internet is especially important in countries where there is no independent media, because it would give people the ability to obtain information previously unavailable to them, according to La Rue’s report. Before the government begins arming people in developing countries with iPads, shouldn’t they first determine why there is no independent traditional media? Otherwise the Internet will become one more class barrier or another method through which governments can disseminate their message to an unknowingly naïve public.
Label me a cynic, but I am concerned about any government effort to provide people with media access. The public airwaves that the government deemed as belonging to the people are the most highly regulated form of mass media. The Internet is the least regulated form of mass media to date. By allowing our government to provide others with access, I fear we may be simply trading one form of regulation for another. Who’s to say which is better?
What do you think? Is Internet access a human right?