Is Internet Access a Human Right?

A recent article by Vinton Cerf, one of the “fathers of the Internet” disagrees with the idea that Internet access should be a human right.  This article has generated an interesting debate, with retorts from Amnesty International among others.

I believe that the question over whether Internet access is or is not a human right is critically related to the definition that we give of human rights.  Or, in other words, when does a specific right pass to the “category” of a “human right”?  The possible answers we can give arise from distinct perspectives: rights can exist that for “moral” or “philosophical” or “normative” reasons acquire the character of a human right.  In order to respond to the question above we must be clear on what level we are discussing.  Sometimes debates seem to be discussing a mixture of these three categories and that debate, in my opinion, is futile. 

Cerf seems disagree with categorizing access to the Internet as a human right for any reason.  Many people reacted by saying that he has an extremely narrow view of the concept of human rights.  Yet Cerf’s main argument, that is, that the right to have access to the Internet has not been explicitly included in any enumerative list of human rights norms on an international level, is a plausible argument that we should take into account.  However, it is a normative argument, and to respond to it with philosophical arguments is to change the core of the discussion. 

In any case, we must take into consideration the fact that some countries, whether through court decisions or laws, consider access to the Internet a human right.  It’s not incorrect that, for now, it is difficult to say that there are international standards that oblige us to understand Internet access as a human right.  But this could change, and it seems that it will change in the near future.

The report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Protection and Promotion of Freedom of Expression and Opinion Frank La Rue, to my mind, indicated the beginning of a path that will end in the “normativization” of access to the Internet as a human right.  In my opinion, it is strategically desirable that this happen, as it will encourage public policy to make a more decided effort with regards to increasing access to the Internet for a greater number of people.  And, with this strategy, it will be important to create good (philosophical) arguments on why access to the Internet is a human right.

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