Internet Access, a “Human Right” or Essential Facility?

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Internet Access, a “Human Right” or Essential Facility? By: Kolubahzizi T. Howard Director of Strategy, Liberia Telecommunications Authority Introduction “Human rights” proponents believe all individuals have entitlements by virtue of being human . These “entitlements” exist as either shared norms justified by moral rationalization; natural rights supported by strong reasons; or legal rights enshrined in national or international law . However, no consensus of the nature of what should be regarded as human rights has evolved and remains a subject of serious debate .

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The declaration of Internet access as a “basic right” is one such debate. Arguments in Favor Internet access is a communications medium that allows individuals to express ideas and opinions globally and provides access to new ideas, opinions and information than previously possible. A connection is seen between human rights and the Internet as a “democratizing” medium uniquely suited to promote human rights by enabling coordination of action, establishment of contacts, exposing of human rights violations, soliciting action, and gathering information.

The freedom of expression, assembly and association online has been termed the freedom to connect . Article 19 declares that everyone has the right to “hold opinions without interference … to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” . This right of information is buttered by the 2003 WSIS Declaration. Information and the Internet are seen as human rights and access to information technology is required to secure that right; making it therefore a human right . Internet access is seen as a basic right because it plays a role in three components of our rights to realize our full potential: reedom of expression, democratic participation, and economic livelihood . This position is accepted by France and Finland which recognized the Internet as a fundamental human right in 2009 . Of 27,000 people polled across 26 countries 87% of Internet users felt web access should be a basic right while 70% of non-users felt they should have access to the Internet. 75% in Japan, Mexico and Russia could not cope without Internet access and 90% in Turkey believe Internet access is a fundamental human right . Arguments Against Many view “human rights” as access to water, food, shelter and health care .

Some question why internet access should be elevated to a legally protected human right. While the Internet is an important technological invention, many individuals believe that it should no more be considered a fundamental right then the right to use a telephone. Human rights are inherent components in the matrix of social structures that express how individual can live in society. Access to the Internet aids in exercising such rights but is simply one tool to do so . Considering Internet access as a human right confuses the ideals behind those rights with the technology that delivers them.

Television, newspapers and radios were prime mediums for political discourse, news, dissent and freedom of speech; however access to them have never been considered ‘rights’ because freedom of expression and information were not predicated on the mode of delivery . Therefore emphasizing information as a right creates a disconnect that prohibits thinking about how information should be used within a set of rights and places attention on the technology of information rather than on the information itself . Implications, Advantages and Disadvantages

Recognizing Internet access as a “basic right” inhibits the fight against piracy, cybercrime and the protection of IPRs. France’s decision to repeal the Loi Hadopi anti-privacy law is an example, which, if applied by other governments would have startling consequences . Another consideration is the cost of the provision of access to individuals, who pays for it? However, declaring Internet access a “basic right” reinforces national commitment to providing access to citizens as seen when Finland provided every citizen legal rights to a 1Mpbs broadband connection and required providers to make those connections available.

Notwithstanding, it represents a paradigm change in norms governing access to information with Internet access increasingly treated more as a civil than a social right. Therefore questions of access are left to individuals to negotiate through the market rather than through a combined effort by states to induce markets to provide equitable access through incentives to operators. Conclusion The Internet increasingly plays a critical role in freedom of expression, democratic participation and economic livelihood and some countries and individuals consider Internet access a basic right.

Conversely, there are those that believe that Internet access is a facilitator of tremendous social benefits and aids in the exercise of innate human rights but is no more than a mode of delivery. As nations debate whether to elevate Internet access to a “basic right” or not, considerations must be given to the challenges that such a declaration would have on the fight against piracy, cybercrime and the protection of IPRs and the ability of states to enforce that right. Reference List Feldman, David (1993). Civil liberties and human rights in England and Wales.

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