Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Illustration for article titled Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Tonight I had a few beers, a nice dinner, and watched a documentary about people in other countries. And then I learned that the Egyptian government has decided to turn off the internet.

I despise "internet culture". It's so pointless, so self-fulfilling, so completely insular and without context. I'm the pessimist who looks at stories of "internet activism" and sort of snidely dismisses the whole smear, content in the knowledge that the uproar from a few tens of thousands of Western internet users doesn't accurately reflect the desires and concerns of millions of people around the world who are online.

But tonight, I am watching a country in the throes of a populist uprising turn off the internet as a protective measure. And I can't help but wonder: If I were one of eighty million people living in a country in the midst of a nascent political upheaval whose access to the rest of the world was being antagonistically removed, would I start to think that maybe those simple packets that transport Facebook updates and Twitter status messages and mass emails are perhaps something more than the byproduct of business but a fundamental right of human beings to communicate with other human beings?


I have nothing more trenchant to offer than that as I get ready to go to sleep in my warm, secure bed. So I pass the buck to you: Is access to the internet a human right? And if so, to what end should we expect others to go to maintain it?

Photo: (AP Photo/ Lefteris Pitarakis)

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Ask your question in a different way to get to the same answer. Can a political uprising succeed without the internet? If it can not, I don't think the internet was all that important. Over thousands of years there have been successful and unsuccessful political uprisings, without the internet. Is it a useful tool, sure, why not. Is it a human right? Was it a human right 1000 years ago? Can people join together to fight for political change in their country, yes they can, its a human right of sorts. The internet is superfluous to the question of it being a human right or not.

A right is a freedom to do or own something, eat, speak freely, gather amongst like minded people, start a family, choose the religion you want to follow, you know the things you could do 2000 years ago if you were not a slave. The internet is a powerful modern information layer which I am guessing is not free for anyone. If it is exclusively a part of commerce, as in, you cant grow it in your back yard or go to 100 places to get some, it seems a stretch to call it a right.