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  1. #1

    Question Is Internet Access A Human Right?

    NY Times Article: Internet Access Is Not a Human Right by Vinton Cerf

    In June, citing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past few years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced Internet access a human right.

    But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: 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. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.
    So in other words... when governments restrict or deny access to the internet, such as in China or Egypt, that's not curtailing civil liberties? Hrm.

    I understand their reasoning. I don't want future generations thinking they're entitled to cars and mp3 players, but something here doesn't sit right with me. I can't put my finger on it yet... I'm hoping the thoughts of others will help me figure it out. Perhaps the hinging point is that "internet access" is intangible unlike a horse or an e-reader.

    /soliciting feedback
    Last edited by iwakar; 01-06-2012 at 12:37 AM. Reason: need to better present discussion
    "The views of absolutists and purists everywhere should be noted in fierce detail, then meticulously and thoroughly printed onto my toilet paper ply."

  2. #2
    Anew Leaf


    I think the problem is that they are taking the analogy too literally. The reason free access is being withheld in these countries is that they are trying to keep their population ignorant. It isn't technology so much as the ability to think for yourself perhaps.
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  3. #3
    i love skylights's Avatar
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    to me it seems the human rights issue is not so much people not having access but the government selectively choosing what people are allowed to see and which people are allowed to see it based on its own needs, instead of the free will of the people. that's intentionally and selfishly distorting reality for millions.

  4. #4


    Per Wiki
    List of human rights

    Not everyone agrees on what the basic human rights are. Here is a list of some of the most recognized ones:

    Right to live, exist
    Right to have a family
    To own property
    Free Speech
    Safety from violence
    Equality of both males and females; women's rights
    Fair trial
    To be innocent until proven guilty
    To be a citizen of a country
    The right to express his or her sexual orientation
    To keep one's own gender identity and rights to have or not to have a surgery
    To vote
    To seek asylum if a country treats you badly
    To think freely
    To believe and practice the religion a person wants
    To peacefully protest (speak against) a government or group
    Health care (medical care)
    To communicate through a language
    Not be forced into marriage
    Maybe the crux lies upon the rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. If our government/leadership has made the move to the internet, which to various degrees across the globe, they have... have they unwittingly changed the rules? If they can "assemble" "speak" and "disseminate information" online, have they roped themselves into becoming responsible for facilitating our ability to do so in turn?
    "The views of absolutists and purists everywhere should be noted in fierce detail, then meticulously and thoroughly printed onto my toilet paper ply."

  5. #5

    Default Cerf started a firestorm

    The Atlantic Wire's response article: The Case for (and Against) Internet as a Human Right

    High Tech Forum: Why Did Vint Cerf Say That?


    TECHi: Internet access IS a human right rebuttal

    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.”

    ...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:

    Is it possible in the near future to create an infrastructure that would make internet access available to nearly everyone in the world?
    Would making internet access available worldwide to the vast majority of people foster positive changes in every culture and every society?
    Are those without internet access less able to prosper?
    Do you agree with the above three questions as a way to ascertain a right from a privelege? He continues and explains why he feels they do.

    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.
    I'm not sold on anyone else's explanations so far, but this discussion is a very important one and I'm surprised more people here don't have an opinion to add.

    Edit: I'm going to retool the thread title to better present the discussion and hopefully get more people in here.
    Last edited by iwakar; 01-06-2012 at 12:47 AM. Reason: Edit
    "The views of absolutists and purists everywhere should be noted in fierce detail, then meticulously and thoroughly printed onto my toilet paper ply."

  6. #6
    Emerging Tallulah's Avatar
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    I'm not buying the idea that the internet is a human right. I don't believe the government should shut down the internet as a way of censoring its citizens, but having access to the internet is not something that we all have a basic right to. Mankind got along for thousands upon thousands of years without the internet, and it could still get along without it if the internet were to disappear tomorrow. It's a good thing, and a convenience, but it is not a right. No one loses a life because their internet got shut off.

    There are people in various parts of the world who are starving. I'm much more worried about their survival and well-being than their access to broadband. I think if I were in their shoes, I might wonder why people are so anxious to lay the groundwork for this technology to reach me, when they weren't so worried about getting me a damn bowl of rice and beans or a shot that prevents me from going blind. Can technology help third world countries? I'm sure it can. Is it a basic human right? No. Let's get everybody clothed, sheltered, free to make their own choices before we worry about providing them with free internet access.

    If we decide the internet is a basic right, who foots the bill? Is a laptop a basic human right? Do we provide those, too? A smartphone?
    Something Witty

  7. #7
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    I'd say it's not the net that's a right.
    It's a uncensored [or as close to that as you can get] environment that's a right. T.V. and the papers are pretty censored and it's not the voice or the voices of the people. The internet is me talking to you about whatever the fuck I feel like talking about. Then you talking to whomever you feel like about whatever the hell you please using any language you desire and giving your opinion.

    That part, the part where the people are saying what they want and it's for the most part uncensored and everyone can be hear, that I think is a human right. Whether anyone listens or cares about what's said is a different story.

  8. #8
    Post Human Post Qlip's Avatar
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    Well, I don't see that any human rights are essentially inalienable, the're an ideal that a certain group of cultures decided to recognize. I just kind of scanned th UN Declaration of Human Rights. The emphasis seems to be on limiting cruelty and enforcing the idea that humans all have equal value and the liberty of the individual. I don't see that having availability of the tools to allow a person to be successful as part of that Declaration.

    But.. the Internet is an amazing phenomena that has the ability to put the majority of human knowledge into a person's hands. I know there are people in third world countries that are starving and a computer can't be eaten, but there are also groups of people working on creating resources for just those people. If there's one thing that I know, it's that humanity has benefitted greatly from the sharing of knowledge proportionately to how quickly we can transmit that knowledge. Maybe access to that knowledge should be a right since it's becoming a technical possibility to provide it.

  9. #9
    Honor Thy Inferior Such Irony's Avatar
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    I don't think the Internet is a fundamental human right in the way but in the United States if you don't have Internet access it can be very difficult to have a good quality of life. There are more on more things that are only possible via the Internet. Some companies have done away with paper applications and require applicants to apply online. If you're poor and out of work its kind of a catch-22 because you likely can't afford the Internet yet you need the Internet to apply for work. Many states have gotten rid of the paper tax forms and require online applications. There are lots of other examples as well and I can see more and more of this happening in the future.

    I could see in the future where it becomes increasingly essential to do things online, the United States adopting an Internet is a fundamental human right attitude. But I don't see that quite yet.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Beargryllz's Avatar
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    The internet is ubiquitous in modern life, though only a small fraction of humans live a modern life

    If we choose to make it a right, then it is

    But how would we enforce that?

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