Friday, January 28, 2011

Is Internet access a human right?

As the New York Times has reported, as well as many other news publications, Egypt has terminated almost all of their country’s Internet access. In an effort to suppress protests and outbursts largely stimulated by videos and groups created in online communities, Egypt has committed what many believe to be a violation of a new fundamental human right. While the Internet in Egypt is only roughly ten years old, its impact on the community has drastically changed the way people live their lives—just as it has here in the United States.

On that same token, President Obama not only mentioned an expansion of broadband access in his recent State of the Union Address, but he has also been a very large proponent of free and equal access of the Internet, an ever growing point of political contention known as Net Neutrality. He believes that no United States citizen should be at a disadvantage when it comes to Internet access and that it is one of very, very few places where anyone, regardless of primarily socioeconomic factors, should be able to speak their voice and have opportunities to start major corporations and companies like Facebook and YouTube.

While the Internet's accessibility is a relatively new point of debate, it will nonetheless become an increasingly larger problem as providers begin to enforce pricing tiers (As Verizon and Google were rumored to begin doing)—each tier having different accessibility rules according to which pricing contract the user has entered into—and countries like Egypt and Tunisia begin to either cut off or largely censor the Internet altogether.

So where do human rights begin to play a role in this ever-increasing technological world? Do we as humans have the right to Internet access? I for one believe that while the Internet should be a public domain for all to be allowed access, it is still a service that must be paid for, which makes this argument a very tricky one. I am still unsure as to how to go about answering this question, but the Internet should be recognized as a public forum that all should be allowed to both exercise their freedom and rights and to organize efforts to change an undesirable situation—as was done in Egypt. In what is already said to be one of the largest Internet blackouts ever, the people of Egypt are being denied these rights; but how fundamental are these rights to being central to the idea of what human rights are considered to be?


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  2. As with most claims to positive rights, I find any claim to a "human right to the internet" to be highly dubious. I'm skeptical as to whether access to a particular technology can be viewed as a universal condition for human dignity or fullfillment. The Internet IS significant as a medium for the expression of ideas, and this precisely why the action of the Egyptian government in restricting access is so repugnant. The problem is not that a particular "right to Internet access" has been violated, but the state is stifling freedoms of speech and political participation (and commerce, for that matter).

    The nation of Bhutan only introduced the Internet (and TV) in 1999; was the government a flagrant violator of human rights prior to this date, purely on that basis?

  3. This is a really interesting post, Rush! I never thought of considering having internet access in the category of human rights issues. Like you said, it is a very tricky argument. As we are in a world that is putting an increasing emphasis on technology and bridging the world through the use of the internet I think it might be a basic right to have internet access simply of the basis of staying connected with the world. Maybe we can see Egypt taking away internet access as putting a limitation on their citizens right to communication with global issues and viewpoints. Because the world is more dependent on the internet, not having internet or being cut off from internet access becomes a more central human rights issues in today's global culture.

  4. Rush, I have to agree with Manali. I found this post very interesting and the thought had never crossed my mind as well. I think the fact that Manali and I both had never considered the rights of internet access just goes to show that we truly take it for granted within the United States.

    Internet access is a public domain where people express their ideas, share news, and learn more about their country, world, areas of interest etc. To have a government deny the access to these public domains is a complete violation of the peoples rights. It suppresses the people and their free will. It seems like the limitation of outside access would be a way to manipulate the peoples perspectives and guiding their thoughts or opinions a certain way. It is sad in a world that is becoming more and more globalized partially due to the use of technology that a country would limit their communities ability to grow with the rest of the world.

  5. Rush, this is a good post in that deals directly with something that we see in everyday life. Granted, we might be the privileged to have the ability to do so, but good job.

    The fact that the web is, in fact, a public domain, is a good point. The right to the expression of ideas and opinions, however, is not by any stretch of the imagination, a new right. The UDHR actually specifically includes the right to freedom of expression through media. Now, granted, as the world changes, so too does the media through which this expression may arise. But the freedom that exists to openly express opinions and ideas does not change, regardless of the technological advances that our world may create.

    The problem here does not lie specifically within the blocked internet usage in the Middle East, but rather with this idea of the right to freedom of speech and expression. It absolutely is a fundamental human right, and by cutting off the peoples' access to this form of participation, it is my firm belief that this is a violation of human rights.


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