question of the day: Is Internet access a human right?

old modem

Does anyone think people are not entitled to access to information, or that access to the Internet is not increasingly a necessary component for participating in the larger culture? British lawyer Rupert Myers doesn’t. From The Telegraph:

Internet access is not a ‘human right’ – for perverts or anyone else

A man convicted of secretly filming 14-year old girl in the shower succeeded today in overturning the sexual offences prevention order which had banned him from (among other things) accessing the internet. Michael Jackson persuaded Mr Justice Collins and Judge Nicholas Cooke QC, sitting at London’s Criminal Appeal Court that it would be “unreasonable nowadays to ban anyone from accessing the internet in their home”. In granting the appeal, senior judges have effectively recognised access to the internet as a right undeniable even to sex offender.

To state the obvious, access to the internet is not a human right. Some 11 per cent of the UK population have never used the internet. Denial of the right to shop at Ocado, comment on Telegraph Blogs or snoop on your Facebook friends is hardly draconian.

If Myers had just confined himself to the sex offender, he might have been okay. But then he’s gotta go bringing the rest of humanity into it… and with a blindingly idiotic argument. Perhaps Internet access should not be considered a human right, but if not, he does not make the case. His primary defenses of the notion are 1) Bad people can do bad things with it and 2) Some people don’t take advantage of it. Both of which are ridiculous reasons to deny the right-ness of anything. It’s hard to imagine, say, any American (and probably lots of non-Americans) denying that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are fundamental human rights, yet America regularly denies wrongdoers their liberty and sometimes their lives as punishment, and the U.S. has made it a mission in recent decades to make the pursuit of happiness much more difficult than it once was; these do not negate the notion of what makes a right and what doesn’t. In the second case, Myers fails to recognize that at least some of those who don’t use the Internet may want to but don’t know how or don’t have the financial resources to be online regularly.

I’ll let Myers’ fatuous presumption that the Net offers nothing more than shopping, snooping, and — horror of horrors! — sharing one’s opinion stand on its own.

I do believe, as you may have guessed, that Internet access should be considered a human right, just as access to a solid education and decent health care should also be considered such, and not just privileges afforded to the lucky or wealthy. How to extend these rights to everyone is a subject for another debate. But deciding that they are rights and not privileges would be a necessary first step before that debate could even happen.

What do you think? Is Internet access a human right? If so, why? If not, why not?

Photo from Dial-a-Grue.

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