Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Access to the Internet and Human Rights

Most of what we conventionally accept as human rights are issues which are very old within the societies which recognise such issues. Rights such as the right to a fair trial, or the right to freedom from want can be traced back to Greek and Roman philosophers in Western culture, and recognised in other ways by Chinese and Indian scholars.

The concept of the right to access to the Internet is a radical new idea, if only for the reason that such access has only been possible since the invention of the Internet. Of course, what has accelerated this issue as it least in part social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become an essential part of many people's lives. The tremendous growth in the use of smart phones means that these and other social platforms are now ubiquitous. Some who thought access to the Internet was never possible, connect via smart phones from villages in the remote parts of Africa and India, relying on solar power to keep the phones charged. Even in failed states such as Somalia, somehow the cell phone companies have continued services enabling those with access to smartphones to then access the Internet.

In a number of countries such as New Zealand and South Korea, there is specific government policy to move government services online rather than maintain offices and call centres. It goes beyond social media, because most banking is now online and shopping online has become very common. Once government services are provided online as the 1st point of contact, then it must be essential that the government ensures that citizens who require access to the government services have an appropriate method of doing so online. As well as the use of a smart phone or a desktop computer or perhaps a tablet, the more itinerant citizens may need use in places like public libraries. But I have seen beggars on the street using a smart phone.

So access to the Internet has become such an essential part of the lives of many people that some say that this has created a new human right. In the New York Times there is a report of a case before the United States Supreme Court on how access to the Internet is such an important right, that even where a judge has attempted in a lower court to restrict access, the Supreme Court judges find that this may be an undue restriction on the US Constitution 1st amendment rights. While this is not specifically called a human right, and if successfully upheld, would be a constitutional right, it is my view moving to one of those fundamental human rights.

The New York Times article is here

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