Guest post from Annabelle Short

In the modern age, the Internet has become an integral part of our lives. For most people, not a thought is given when we pull our smartphones out of our pockets and search our latest pondering or when we flip on our favorite streaming service to relax at the end of the night. Even at work, many people spend their days sitting at a computer. In fact, as of late, the internet itself has become a career for some with the rise of internet personalities such as YouTube creators.

Whether it is seen as a weakness of our society or a simply a facet of it, it is worth it to take notice that without the internet anymore, some of us feel rather lost. This begs the question, though, has the internet become a privilege that we are all accustomed to or has it become a human right that we all can expect like the right not to be discriminated against or our rights to freedom?

This article aims to take a deeper look into this issue by taking a look at exactly what a human right is and if our conveniences such as satellite internet without data limits fits into that definition.

What Is a Human Right?

Before we can decide if having access to the internet is a human right, it is important to be very clear on what a human right is by definition.

The United Nations defines human rights as rights that are inherent to all human beings. This means that regardless of factors such as race, sex, nationality, language, religion, and so on, all people are entitled to certain rights.

What Are the Arguments?

When looking at the arguments for whether or not the internet is a human right, the sides that you see are pretty black and white. The two sides seem to see the argument as the internet either is or isn’t a human right that we should all have access to.

The side that is in favor of the idea that the internet is a human right point out what it allows people to do. For example, having access to the internet typically means that you have access to almost any knowledge you could want as well as the ability to share your opinions. As such, they argue, taking away the internet is, in essence, taking away many people’s rights of expression and their access to knowledge.

The other side uses this same argument but twists their conclusion. Yes, they argue, the internet helps to facilitate other, recognized human rights. However, they come to the conclusion that this doesn’t make the internet a human right – just a facilitator of human rights rather than a human right itself.

What Does the UN Say?

As one could expect, the UN did weigh in on this argument. In May 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council that contained information concerning the idea of the internet as a human right. In all, the report contained 88 recommendations for both protecting and promoting the right to expression online and universal access to the internet for everyone.

The report pointed out chiefly that access to the internet represented an access to knowledge that sat outside of government lines. It even went so far as to suggest that the best course of action was to require governments to keep access to the internet maintained at all times – even during periods of political unrest – to allow citizens to access to information from varying points of view.

However, the report became slightly less clear in the section that read as follows:

“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States. Each State should thus develop a concrete and effective policy, in consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and the relevant Government consultation with individuals from all sections of society, including the private sector and relevant Government ministries, to make the Internet widely available, accessible, and affordable to all segments of the population.”

On the one hand, this passage highlights the fact that the internet should be accessible to all. On the other hand, it highlights the internet as a tool to human rights.

So, Is the Internet a Human Right?

At the end of the day, the answer isn’t as simple as it might seem. For now, legally, it seems that the internet is seen as an invaluable tool to human rights rather than a human right itself. As the the internet ingrains itself further into our lives, though, it further ensures itself a chance at being considered an entity that we all have a legal right to.


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