Should Internet Access Be A Human Right?

By February 8, 2011R is for Research

The question whether Internet access should be considered a human right has gained new currency since the Egyptian government blocked access to it for over a week. CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi recently interviewed Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do, for his opinion on the matter. Jarvis believes that everyone should have the right to connect, but did not go so far as to say the government should also ensure people’s access (like Finland has recently done, making 1Mb access a civil right). With regards to the United States government, Susan Collins, a Republican Senator from Maine, is planning on re-introducing a bill that would give the U.S. president the power to turn off “critical infrastructure” in the event of a “significant threat” to cyberspace. Groups who favor net neutrality and open access are already galvanizing opposition to this proposed legislation. Regardless of your particular persuasion, if you use the Internet then you have a vested interest in the outcomes that will follow these important debates. Sound off your opinion by commenting or, better yet, contacting your U.S. Representative or Senator.

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • kmstoffel says:

    that is a tricky topic. I cannot say I would have ever thought of a debate for internet access to be a civil right, but on the other hand, I really don’t think it’s okay for the government to deny people the right to access the internet or filter/block certain pages on the internet. I can certainly say that the way it is being implemented in aspects of the workplace, education etc. (professors rely on us students having internet access to turn papers in on time) if this continues, it may be should be a right that we all have internet access in some capacity.

  • lauridietz says:

    Yes! I believe internet access is a human right. Some information, services, and resources are only available online or privilege people who can access the online. For example, I get a discount on my car insurance if I opt for e-billing. If we don’t work to minimize the digital divide now, we will have increasing inequalities and continued stratification of the classes.

    But, what counts as “access”? Currently, access to the internet requires money by and large. True, libraries often provide free internet access, but is that enough? And if we make access to the internet free, that does not necessarily mean people can afford the technology to access it.

    The other question your post raises for me is “What is the difference between a government limiting people’s access to information and a company like Apple limiting the types of apps you can or can’t have?” I would image many of us are quick to censure Egypt or China for their undemocratic control over information while we are happily playing on our iphones, ipads, imacs, etc.

    Thanks for the provocative post!

  • matthewdavidpearson says:

    Great post, Joe! I agree that everyone should have access to the Internet. TMZ is awesome.

    The language of “human right,” though, is truly confusing for me, at least at this point. I’m clear that shutting of the Internet by the government in Egypt=not cool and=a violation of rights. Assuming a government does by and large not actively restrict access to the Internet, have they then done their job in making Internet access human right? Or, should they take action to give citizens access to it by not only subsidizing the infrastructure, but also by subsidizing ownership of devices to access the Internet? I’m not at all sure this isn’t an awesome idea, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily government’s role.

    And, to the above commenter “lauridietz” I’d say: what government does and what a private company does are pretty different things. I’m not making an argument that a private company can or should be able to do whatever they want (e.g., exclude people based on race, gender, or sexuality, dump toxic waste into the environment, or use video cameras to accost celebrities at LAX in baggage claim). But in getting at the limitations a company like Apple places on developers and users, I do think a government saying we can’t talk about organizing a union or questioning the actions of a president or something is, for me, much different than Real Simple magazine deciding not to write articles about union organizing or presidential competency and instead spending their space devoted to crafts that I can do that help make my complicated life feel just a little bit simpler.

    I’m of course wary of the “choice” or “freedom” as purely or even primarily manifested in consumerism, but it’s nevertheless true that with whatever free will I possess I choose to buy something or not. I choose to buy an iPhone 3, an iPhone 4, an iPad, a MacBook, a MacBook Pro, a Mighty Mouse, a Magic Trackpad, the iWork suite, the iLife suite, etc. Apple has no power over me. I just like it!

    Furthermore–I can access almost every aspect of the Internet via an iOS device, save for a Flash-based site, which sites rely on a proprietary technology owned by Adobe, and which is soon to be/already unnecessary given the incorporation of video elements in HTML5–the open standards that the entire Internet is built on.

    Stillfurthermore, it seems to me that all commercial products inherently limit access. Even a novel is fascistic in the same way “lauridietz” seems to think that Apple is–the words on the page are under the strict control of the “author,” editor(s), the publisher, and the printer. The buttons, screen, or shape, etc., of the phones that the implied-by-“lauridietz” benevolent corporation Motorola designs for the Android OS shape and constrain its use. And, where’s the “democracy” in a phone (the Droid) that costs $149.00, at best, but only with a two-year voice and data plan that–at minimum–runs about $60 (and with a $350 early-termination fee) from Verizon?

    So, “lauridietz”: is your claim one of degree? That Apple’s fascism and limitations are just more egregious than other limits and controls placed on things by people? Or is it that as Apple and its devices gain more of a foothold on Internet access that the ways they shape the Internet may approach something that government needs to regulate?

    One could argue that Apple’s limitations result in amazing devices that work reliably, giving access to more and more people, save for making “phone” being able to make “phone” calls. If this is rooted in some unspoken desire borrow my iPhone, “lauridietz,” well, I’d be happy to let you access whatever parts of the Internet Apple wants you to via my iPhone4.