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

Vika Mpisane vika at zadna.org.za
Thu Jan 5 14:53:16 SAST 2012

Hi Nigel,


Vint has "bailed" me out, I supposeJ The point you're making is about an
enabler to the enjoyment of at least 2 human rights - in this case the
rights to freedom of expression and to access to information. The Internet
is only the enabler, not a human right on its own. It can become a right,
though, but that would need a law (a statute) to proclaim it a right, in
which case it would only remain a civil or statutory right, not a human


Your right to water analogy marks the distinction well, I think: the human
right involved is the right to life, and "water" becomes an enabler (a
means) to the enjoyment of that right, the same way as healthcare is the
enabler of the same.





From: Vint Cerf [mailto:vint at google.com] 
Sent: 05 January 2012 02:08 PM
To: Nigel Roberts
Cc: vika at zadna.org.za; africann at afrinic.net
Subject: Re: [AfrICANN-discuss] Internet Access Is Not a Human Right


nigel, the problem with enshrining a technology as a human right is that
when the technology changes, the right isn't valid any more. The proper
right, here, is freedom of expresses and access to information - how that is
accomplished is going to vary from time to time. Libraries facilitated
access to information but to make them a "human right" over-extends the
notion, for example. Internet is simply the most recent manifestation of a
way to enable human rights.





On Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 7:04 AM, Nigel Roberts <nigel at channelisles.net>


Then I need to write a reasoned rebuttal, because Vint's wrong.

But in advance of a detailed essay, here's a few thoughts.

Perhaps Vint's not exactly, WRONG, but instead perhaps overinterpreting the
claim that

'Internet Access is a human right'.

If you look at when I first gained access to the proto-Internet, in 1978,
Internet access was clearly neither a human right nor even existed as far as
the vast majority.

But if you look at the situation in some countries like the USA and the UK
today, in 2012, a LACK of Internet access clearly INFRINGES basic human
rights in many aspects.

My mother, who is 77, and beginning to suffer some of the trials of age,
cannot use the Internet.

According she is dispossessed in some real ways when dealing with the
governmental authorities.

She is discriminated and charged more for services by private companies who
do not take reasonable accomodations for the disabled in their service

But she can ask me to file her tax return, or book her flights for her.
Now imagine communities who cannot for reasons of geography or education get
access the internet either with reasonable speed (dialup is unusable today)
or at all. We have a new poor, the information-poor.

Is water a human right?

That's a question is a burning issue in many parts of Africa. According to
Kofi Annan it is.  See http://www.righttowater.info/

But in the strict interpretation of say the Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, or the European Convention, the fundamental right is the not a
'right to water'. First of all, is the right to life itself, and then other
rights such as the right to found a family, and  right to private and family
life. Clean drinking water is a necessity predicate.

It seems to me that Internet access is analogous.

And it appears that the most relevant human right is the right to free
expression (Art. 19 of the Universal Declaration, Art 10. of the European

There is no doubt in my mind that lack of functioning and efficient internet
access infringes that right.


(PS: Vika's right. It's never too late. I did it in 2008 at age 50!)

On 01/05/2012 11:29 AM, Vika Mpisane wrote:

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.



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