Is Internet access a human right?

A United Nations special report last June on “the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” talks about the indispensable nature of the Internet:

“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access… should be a priority for all states.”

 

The author, Frank LaRue, also writes:

“States have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from Internet access, regardless of the justification provided… to be disproportionate and thus a violation of Article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

 

I agree that Internet access facilitates connectivity. It’s certainly good for business. I wrote a post two years ago about how data democratization and the democratization of access have transformed the way we do business. The Internet has also been a critical tool for political activism, perhaps no more starkly evident than in the groundswell of online-organized activities that followed the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi.  Most recently, it’s enabled Syrians in cut-off cities to show the world what’s happening inside their country.

The Internet levels the playing field. And it gives voice to the voiceless. But is access a right?

I’m not sure.

Vinton Cerf, a VP at Google who is considered one of the fathers of the Internet, says no. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Cerf writes:

“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.”

 

I think he’s right. But what say you?

Photo by Val Kerry (Flickr).