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OP ED: Internet Access is Important But Not a Human Right


By: Audrey McMahon

Introduction

Access to the Internet is an important tool for communication and access to information, but is it a human right? The United Nations clearly defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings … human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more.” Many people rely on the Internet for their schooling, work, and everyday activities. It’s particularly helpful in sharing information and maintaining contact with others. While access to the Internet cannot be recognized as a human right, it does serve as a powerful modern instrument.


Internet Access Has Become Important to Education, However, It Is Not Essential to Life and Liberty

Today, the Internet is critical to communication and accessing information. However, it does not meet the UN’s clearly set standards for human rights. While it is certainly a popular modern enabler of rights, it is not fundamental to life and liberty. Further, the Internet is commonly thought of as an advantage in education, development, and personal growth. While this may be true, it is by no means fundamental or a human right. Even so, it is undeniably important to education, contact, and our modern society. It has become possibly the most efficient way to work and is widely used as an instant answer source. The Internet also allows individuals to learn more about different cultures, political issues, and useful everyday topics, such as changing one’s car oil. This can be a significant advantage to those with access, but it is not essential to live or exercise one’s rights.


Article 19

Article 19 describes the right to express your opinion and receive information. Though the use of the Internet is a common way of enjoying this right in modern society, it’s not the only means. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines this right as an innate part of an individual. This right may be exercised in any way that is justifiable, legal, and moral. There are many ways to do so offline, such as public speech, writing letters to Congress or a company, and setting up meeting with those you want to share your opinion with or receive information from. To use the Internet as a means of exercising this right is common, but not necessary. Internet access, therefore, is not a human right.


The New Public Square

The Internet is also widely known as the new “Public Square.” What this refers to is the modern habit of using the World Wide Web as the primary means to communicate one’s opinions, news, and ideas to others. This “Public Square” is also used to take part in civic engagement remotely, or more disagreeably, to provoke marginalized groups and spread propaganda. All of the above is common on the Internet, which is why the Internet is neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s simply a means of exercising one’s rights. You also have to consider, however, the disadvantages of using the Internet as opposed to using offline means to enjoy one’s rights. One of these disadvantages is targeted toward children. Children could easily unintentionally access explicit content, and this could harm the child’s mental health in the long run, especially if that content contains gore. Another disadvantage is the Internet connection. Nobody has a perfect connection or a good signal all the time due to numerous circumstances such as power lines falling, blackouts, remote locations’ infamous signals, etc…. Exercising these rights offline can help not only to protect children from potentially harmful content but also to communicate ideas more efficiently. Online advocacy could also be less effective. On the Internet, it’s easy to dismiss people’s stories and causes; who knows if they’re telling the truth? Advocating offline, on the other hand, gives people a chance to connect face-to-face and better provide tangible evidence in a way that won’t be permanently accessible to strangers with one screenshot. This makes things easier, depending on your story, level of advocacy, or degree of civic engagement. These are only a few examples of why offline advocacy and free speech might be better than the same online.

Utilizing the Internet to exercise and enjoy one’s rights that are described in Article 19 also has its advantages. To communicate offline, one would need to first set up a meeting time and place that works for all parties. This usually takes anywhere from a few minutes to a month. Communication online, however, is instant, with the exception of a bad connection. Virtual meetings have exploded in popularity due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, this can especially be seen in education. Advocating on the Internet rather than in the traditional way has benefits as well, including being more practical for poor public speakers or hiding your identity. The latter could be a good thing if it puts the individual or others in harm's way, like how Jane Austen and Mary Shelley among others initially published their books anonymously. Jane Austen, a prominent female author from the 1700s to the 1800s, wrote renowned works such as Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice. Mary Shelley, also a celebrated author of the same era, is known for writing Frankenstein and The Modern Prometheus. They first wrote anonymously due to the stigma around women holding “men’s” careers... Had the authors been discovered to be female, they would’ve not risen to the level of popularity their books reached. In the modern day, a less extreme version of this occurs constantly online. Due to the constant threat of getting hacked or giving your information to the wrong person, many people choose to keep their offline identities a secret while on the Internet. This can have negative consequences such as a rise in audacious or unethical comments and cyberbullying, since the individual committing these acts will likely face no consequences offline.


The other motivation for keeping one’s identity a secret is the fear of being discriminated against or harassed. Of course, nobody should have to be afraid to express their opinion due to discrimination, as stated in Article 19, but it will continue to happen. And while it is unfortunate that some people are made to take these measures, especially minors since this is the safest option, it is a good alternative to public speeches. Though, public speeches are probably more effective, especially in cases that are sentimental or that advocate for egalitarianism such as human rights. “A good servant, but a bad master,” could definitely be applied to online communication.


Conclusion

In conclusion, though the Internet is important to our modern-day society, it cannot be considered equal to, or as, a human right. While Internet access has proven itself to be a useful tool in enabling rights, communication, education, and the exploration and appreciation of other cultures, it is not essential to one’s life or liberty.


Citations

  • “Internet Access Is a Necessity Not a Luxury – It Should Be a Basic Right.” University of Birmingham, 8 Feb. 2023, www.birmingham.ac.uk/news-archive/2020/Internet-access-is-a-necessity-not-a-luxury-it-should-be-a-basic-right#:~:text=The%20Covid%2D19%20pandemic%20has,has%20become%20a%20basic%20necessity. Accessed 12 July 2023.

  • “Internet Access Must Become Human Right or We Risk Ever-Widening Inequality.” ScienceDaily, 7 Apr. 2023, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230407094243.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A. Accessed 12 July 2023.

  • “Isn’t Internet Access a Human Right?” MUO, 24 July 2019, www.makeuseof.com/tag/Internet-access-human-right/. Accessed 12 July 2023.

  • Cerf, Vinton G. “Opinion | Internet Access Is Not a Human Right.” The New York Times, 5 Jan. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/opinion/Internet-access-is-not-a-human-right.html. Accessed 14 July 2023.

  • United Nations. “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, 1948, www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights#:~:text=Article%2019. Accessed 14 July 2023.

  • “Beyond the Public Square: Imagining Digital Democracy.” Www.yalelawjournal.org, www.yalelawjournal.org/forum/beyond-the-public-square-imagining-digital-democracy.

  • “Technology and Liberty: Internet Free Speech.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/documents/technology-and-liberty-internet-free-speech#:~:text=Ruling%20unanimously%20in%20Reno%20v.

  • “Feature on Reno v. ACLU I - the Battle over the CDA.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/documents/feature-reno-v-aclu-i-battle-over-cda#:~:text=Striking%20a%20tremendous%20victory%20for. Accessed 27 July 2023.

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