[AfrICANN-discuss] Internet Access Is Not a Human Right

Vika Mpisane vika at zadna.org.za
Thu Jan 5 13:29:48 SAST 2012

Thanks, AR! This is quite a persuasive argument by Vint Cerf, and I'm
convinced he's right. He should consider becoming a human rights lawyer as
well...it's never too late.

I particularly like the distinction between a human right and a civil right.


Vika Mpisane
+27 11 314 0077

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> -----Original Message-----
> From: africann-bounces at afrinic.net [mailto:africann-bounces at afrinic.net]
> Behalf Of Anne-Rachel Inné
> Sent: 05 January 2012 12:39 PM
> To: africann at afrinic.net; African Governments Working group
> Subject: [AfrICANN-discuss] Internet Access Is Not a Human Right
> Internet Access Is Not a Human Right
> Published: January 4, 2012
> FROM the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around the
> world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices that
> with it. Though the demonstrations thrived because thousands of people
> out to participate, they could never have happened as they did without the
> ability that the Internet offers to communicate, organize and publicize
> everywhere, instantaneously.
> It is no surprise, then, that the protests have raised questions about
> whether Internet access is or should be a civil or human right. The issue
> particularly acute in countries whose governments clamped down on Internet
> access in an attempt to quell the protesters. In June, citing the
> in the Middle East and North Africa, a report by the United Nations’
> rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had “become an
> indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past
> years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have
> pronounced Internet access a human right.
> But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point:
> technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high
> for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be
> the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives,
> freedom from torture or freedom of conscience.
> It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted
> since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at
> time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the
> important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right
> a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure
> I would put it.
> The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that
> are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of
> and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound
> any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United
> Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring Internet access a
> right, acknowledged that the Internet was valuable as a means to an end,
> as an end in itself.
> What about the claim that Internet access is or should be a civil right?
> same reasoning above can be applied here — Internet access is always just
> tool for obtaining something else more important — though the argument
> it is a civil right is, I concede, a stronger one than that it is a human
> right. Civil rights, after all, are different from human rights because
> are conferred upon us by law, not intrinsic to us as human beings.
> While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right”
> to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal
> service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now
> broadband Internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of
> country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet
> access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the
> government.
> Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental
> issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support
> and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously accessible and
> egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a
> global scale. As a result, we have new ways to allow people to exercise
> human and civil rights.
> In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to
> users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That
> means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and
> worms that silently invade their computers.
> Technologists should work toward this end.
> It is engineers — and our professional associations and standards-setting
> bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers — that
> create and maintain these new capabilities. As we seek to advance the
> of the art in technology and its use in society, we must be conscious of
> civil responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise.
> Improving the Internet is just one means, albeit an important one, by
> to improve the human condition. It must be done with an appreciation for
> civil and human rights that deserve protection — without pretending that
> access itself is such a right.
> Vinton G. Cerf, a fellow at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
> Engineers, is a vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google.
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