/ Technology

Is internet access a basic human right?

Lasers connecting over world globe

The United Nations has declared access to the internet a ‘basic human right’. The report calls upon all UN states to ensure that they maintain access to the internet at all times – even in times of political unrest.

This is in the nick of time when the internet, from its inception a bastion of free speech, is facing attacks to that freedom on a variety of fronts.

While Middle Eastern protests have showcased the use of social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to accelerate change, worldwide governments are trying to gag similar uprisings. The UN’s announcement came on a day when two-thirds of Syria’s internet access had reportedly gone dark.

A debate for democratic societies too

The debate is no less relevant in the UK. You only have to look at the debate surrounding a certain footballer, a super injunction and Twitter to see that we can’t take freedom of speech for granted.

Ok, so there’s a big difference between political dissent and celebrity tittle-tattle, but the issues are the same. Should the internet be censored? And where do you draw the line between free speech and an individual’s right to privacy?

Just this weekend, I was watching the BBC’s The Big Question featuring Alastair Campbell and Max Clifford, among others. As one savvy audience member pointed out, these are no longer questions for governments and celebrities alone. In an age of Google and Facebook, any one of us could see our dirty washing laundered in public. And as few of us can afford £20,000 for a super injunction, what about our right to privacy?

Fundamental access rights

While the UN’s focus is on politics, there are more basic concerns. If internet access is a basic human right then everyone, including low-income households, should be online.

Last year Finland became the first country to coerce providers into supplying connections for all its residents, a move backed by Conversation commenter Mr Gus:

‘There are so many services now that can only be accessed online that consumers left without a connection to the digital world will be seriously at a disadvantage’.

Similarly, a lack of experience shouldn’t exclude people from the benefits of the internet and yet an estimated nine million Britons have never been online. Initiatives such as Race Online 2012 are plugging this gap by enlisting digital champions and providing discounted computers. This is all money well spent, when those not online are missing out on tangible financial savings and access to essential government services.

Equally, they may be missing out on their right to freedom of speech. And since this is a right the United Nations is now fully backing, hopefully it’s a right that’s here to stay.

Phil says:
6 June 2011

Ridiculous. Only 30% of the world’s population have internet access so what are impoverished governments supposed to do? Hold off building that hospital and run broadband out to areas with no electricity and high illiteracy rates instead? If I don’t pay my bill and my ISP cut me off can I sue them for violating my human rights?

Clearly the idea of somebody living in Europe or North America who has no idea of what conditions are like in the rest of the world.

Adequate food and a safe water could be higher priorities in some countries.

As I have said on other threads, I envy those who do not use the internet.

Why is it deemed a human right to “get cheaper prices on the internet”? Why is it a human right to expose yourself to a potentially reclusive hobby?

Also, Right to Free Speech? I’m sorry but, just like this forum, we have to abide by the rules dictated by the moderators. How is that free speech? Free Speech is often packaged in such a way that it’s only free if you fall within the boundaries of what is morally decent. Seeing as this is subjective, it means that on the internet it is completely erroneous.

Things like racist jokes, n**i-sympathising and terrorism do not sit well with “Free Speech” advocates, highlighting the very hypocrisy that pervades our society. I am not saying that those things are right, but it is not free speech if you limit it by “house rules”, it is the very opposite.

Wonder how long before they declare its a basic human right to get ripped off by ISPs who can get away with advertising unlimited this that and the other and we all know its not unlimited as they always add fair usage policies, and therefore it must by definition be then be limited.

andy hessentaler says:
7 June 2011

Get away from the philosophy and look at whats happening right now on the streets of ‘civilized’ societies. More men women and children would have been tortured and murdered in cold blood by opressive regimes in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Yeman and the like if there wasnt the network power of the internet. It must be a human right. In the past wars were fought in middle east countries over oil. In the future the world will fight wars over data. Wikileaks is just the beginning.

Mal says:
7 June 2011

Yes where it’s possible people should have access to the Internet but expect in poor countires people would rather have food and shelter first.

In the UK many low income people use the connection at the Library but now many charge for this or the Library has been closed down, leaving low income people disadvantaged, for job search etc
BT should provide a basic low cost (just email and web searching etc ,no film downloading) connection to all low income homes who want it.

Garry Dixon says:
7 June 2011

Freedom of speech is about having the right to hold and express personal opinions without fear of reprisal. It is not a right to spread gossip or invade someone else’s privacy. The internet makes it easier to express opinions, political or otherwise, but to claim it is a basic human right is a bit far-fetched.

James Harrison says:
10 June 2011

So many people think that what is commonly available (at a price) should be a human right. I disagree entirely, although in an ideal world, all should be a free human right, except that which is not necessary for one’s own well-being. The internet is jolly low on that list. Contraception and abstinence from procreation should be the first apparent human right to be shown that it is most definitely NOT one. Those on a low income should have better priorities. We see TV’s, games, mobiles and computers, along with dogs and cats etc. etc. These are no human right either. In a capitalist world, one must earn capital to earn their toys, and care for our own basic right after birth, which is to live in a caring and loving family and society. That one is free to give. I’d like to see it given freely!

This is ridiculous. Internet access is way down the list of “basic” human rights in a world where people do not have water, food, security, education, health care, freedom of speech, etc.

UN – get real!

There are many things in the UK that we consider to be our human rights – the right to clean water, the right to free speech, the right to open communication, the right to a secure sewage system, the right to have food choices, etc, etc. Because we have so many things, it may be easy to add to this Internet access. But is this really a BASIC human right? We may not think so – (or we may think so!), Who therefore defines what is a basic human right? For myself, I do believe that there are many other things which need to be sorted out before the Internet is declared a basic human right.

I should have thought that the Consumers’ Association should be campaigning to ensure that the world’s population have adequate sanitation and water rather than bother with what must have been suggested with tongue firmly in cheek. Either that or the person who made this suggestion has no grasp of what over 75% of the population of our planet struggle with on a daily basis. Very reminiscent of Gordon Brown’s assertion on the same subject, and he lost a grasp of reality years ago!