Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Internet Access a Human Right

On May 16, the United Nations declared Internet access to be a human right. The report to the 17th session of the United Nation's Human Rights Council by UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue has declared that Internet access is a tool to protect people. The full 22-page report can be seen at:

It's clear that the Internet has changed the world. In the United States, it has typically opened up commerce (how we buy stuff) and entertainment (how we have fun).

However, in many parts of the world, the Internet has a more profound effect on people's basic needs and has recently been credited with contributing to the overthrow of undesirable government regimes, among other benefits.

As I heard about the UN's declaration, I wondered what are some of the other human rights? The report by Mr. La Rue includes the following statement: "The right to freedom of opinion and expression is as much a fundamental right on its own accord as it is an `enabler' of other rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education and the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as well as civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of association and assembly."

Pretty heady stuff.

Further reading of the report indicated some of the key aspects of this human right include freedom of expression and access to unfiltered information. In other words, not having only a single view of information, say from the government. The report is in effect saying that multiple — even dissenting — views are valuable.

For some people, their only source of information are newspapers, television and radio stations which are controlled by the government. The government even controls telecommunications, which includes the Internet in their country, so websites may be blocked if deemed necessary by the people who control the access.

The report also did acknowledge the legitimacy of blocking access to some information, most notably child pornography.

Note that the report did not say that people need to have high-speed Internet connections into their businesses, homes or schools.

I also found an interesting story in the New York Times on June 12 about how the United States government is helping people with "repressive governments" bypass the same sorts of limitations that the United Nations has said should not exist. The article can be read at:

Right now, I don't see the UN having any power to control or correct any country who decides not to participate in its pronouncement, although now that the UN has declared Internet access as a human right, countries that don't comply may be deemed to violate people's human rights.

While the personal effect of the Internet on our community is far different than the people who will be affected by this declaration, I hope that having this declaration by the UN will continue to improve the lives of people around the world. If that's the case, then the Internet will again continue to amaze me as to the value it brings to the world.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 15 June 2011.

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