Aug21

Life, Liberty And The Pursuit Of Wifi?

Posted by Kelly Kirkham

While the Declaration of Independence doesn’t include technological advances, there may be a need for an update as the debate over whether or not an internet connection is a human right rages on.

The US Constitution has been amended 27 times, and surprisingly none of these amendments mention internet access. Does that mean that an average American can lead a useful life without it? The answer depends on who you ask.

More than 2 billion people in this world are accessible through internet access – that’s about a third of our planet’s total population. This effectively removes borders and blurs cultural differences across the world’s population. The internet represents a powerful communication tool that allows us to project our free speech and right to assemble in one click. Yet members of the FCC disagree that it is a human right…

According to US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member Michael O’Rielly it is “ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right”. He stated in a June 2015 meeting that “human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being, they are the core principles underpinning human interactions in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs.”.

While O’Rielly’s statements may be true the United Nations’ Human Rights Council (UN) disagreed when in 2011 it issued a special report covering the “transformative nature” of the internet. You can read the full report here.  

The UN declared that “the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom and expression” and that there should be “as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in a few, very exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law.”.

Prior to the UN declaring the internet as a necessity, the BBC published a survey covering 26 countries where 79% of people believe that access is a fundamental right. This survey was conducted in response to leaders of Middle Eastern and African countries as they attempted to limit or disconnect internet access as a population control method.   

Vinton Cerf, who as the co-creator of the internet is a pretty big name online, argues in this article that the internet must be protected from censorship by any authority or organization as valuable and historical information may be lost; information that belongs to us all. He argues: “ History is rife with examples of governments taking actions to “protect” their citizens from harm by controlling access to information and inhibiting freedom of expression and other freedoms outlined in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must make sure, collectively, that the internet avoids a similar fate.”.

Any American looking for employment, education, political information, government assistance or health care will most likely be pointed towards a website as a first port of call. While other methods of carrying out any necessary tasks still exist, the internet is generally the most efficient or economical way of getting things done. Human right or not, the internet has become a business staple and largely contributes to our economy. Perhaps the question should not be whether or not the internet is a human right, but instead we should ask why would we ever want to limit access to a commodity that has done so much to shape and evolve the world we know today?

What would your life be like without the web? Let’s start the conversation on Twitter: @Midphase

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