Internet access Is a human right

Human Rights

Technology and philosophy have been at the center of more debates lately than ever before. It’s clear that technology is advancing faster than anyone would have imagined a decade ago, while an argument could be made that the philosophies that brought the world this far are starting to regress to less-civilized times. In the question of whether or not internet access is a human right or simply a privilege, technology and philosophy collide dramatically.

The arguments that Vinton G. Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist and a prominent computer scientist recognized as a “father of the Internet,” makes in his article titled “Internet Access Is Not a Human Right” are quite compelling. He states that “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself.”

It’s a “gotcha” statement that sidesteps the perception of those fighting for more internet rights based upon the tremendous role the web played in uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. In essence, his statement and the whole article attempts to reason with supporters of the United Nations report that declares internet access is, indeed, a human right. He acknowledges that the internet was critical but that calling it a human right or even a civil right is taking it too far.

I disagree.

There’s no need to try to redefine what “human rights” are. According to Wikipedia, human rights are “commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.”

This fits in well today just as it fit when the term was introduced in the 18th century. The question really comes down to delivery of rights. Rather than trying to play around with semantics, we should be looking at the results of the last couple of years and make the determination based upon three questions:

  1. Is it possible in the near future to create an infrastructure that would make internet access available to nearly everyone in the world?
  2. Would making internet access available worldwide to the vast majority of people foster positive changes in every culture and every society?
  3. Are those without internet access less able to prosper?

The answer to number 1 is definitely yes, though not without challenges. Number 2 is debatable but recent history would have most leaning towards the affirmative. Number 3 is a personal philosophical question, but again the general perception is also affirmative here.

Technology is an enabler as Cerf states. In many cases, it’s also a right; the two statuses are not mutually exclusive. He uses the example that owning a horse once made making a living easier, where the horse was the enabler and making a living was the human right. Technology is not a horse. The internet is not a horse. Only a small percentage of people owned a horse while a large percentage were able to make a living.

It’s not a coincidence that there seems to be a new uprising against oppression around the world every other month. Oppression isn’t new. The desire to end oppression isn’t new. The ability to organize, communicate, and learn using the internet is the only thing that has been added to the equation. There have been more successful uprisings against powerful government entities in the last two years than in the past 50 years prior.

Downplaying the importance and amazing abilities of the internet to improve the human condition is dangerous. In this case, I’m siding with the United Nations (something that I don’t do very often). Vaulting the internet to the highest plateau as a true human right is the right step towards ending more than just oppression worldwide. It’s a step towards increased opportunity, improved education, and the end of hostilities based upon ignorance. It’s an element much like medicine that should fall into the same category.

As an exercise in comparison, take the words internet access out of the three questions above and replace them with access to medication. Most would agree that access to medication is a human right, but even it has basically the same answers when inserted into those questions.

Number 1: yes, though not without challenges. Number 2: debatable but most would lean towards the affirmative. Number 3: personal with a general perception of affirmative.

The statement that Cerf is trying to make is that technology and the internet are means to an end, not the ends themselves. He’s correct. That doesn’t mean that they should be considered human rights. On the contrary, the discovery that giving people a tool that they can use to dramatically improve their lives should be used to rally support for the goal of giving everyone everywhere the ability to use the most profound technological breakthrough in decades.

If the United Nations declaring that internet access should be a human right is the way to make it a reality, then we shouldn’t be tinkering with the semantics of the statement. We should be striving to make it a reality.

What do you think?

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Written by JD Rucker

JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of both Judeo Christian Church and Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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