Internet access as a human right?
Bente Kalsnes wrote about Internet access as a Human Right in 2009. Recent events in the Middle East, especially Egypt, where the government has shut down Internet access, reinforces the need to update UN's Declaration of Human Rights.
(03/07/2009) - The events taking place in Iran for the past three weeks have made me thinking about this topic. Would the situation in Iran been different if access to the internet was part of the UN’s declaration of human rights?
Isn’t it time to start thinking about internet as a utility, as something that is so integrated and important in life as electricity or access to water? And if we think about internet as an utility, not “just” as entertainment, doesn’t that require some legal changes as well, for example in UN’s declaration of human rights? I’ve written about the same topic in today’s issue of Morgenbladet (in Norwegian, and ironically, you need a subscription to read the article… I’ve decided to make an English version as well because I think this idea should be spread to non-Norwegian readers as well) as well at the Personal Democracy Forum’s blog.
Take a closer look at article 19 in the 61 years old declaration that states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
Internet has become an crucial medium for freedom of speech supporters all over the world, which as also been magnified by heavy use by the protest movement in Iran. But Iranian authorities are among the toughest regimes in the world in censuring and excluding Iranians from the internet, documentet byOpen Net Initiative’s recent Iran report about internet censorship and filtering, Wall Street Journal’s article about Iranian surveillance supported by equipment from Nokia and Simens, and The Atlantic’s article about Internet Surveillance and Iran: A Primer.
France’s highest court, the Constitutional Court has already declared that access to the internet is a“fundamental human right”. That happened in June, after the court struck down what would have been one of the world’s toughest laws against illegal downloading, also called “three strikes” or Loi Hadopi. In addition, Estonia and Greece have also stated that internet access is a human right.
Iran has developed one of the most advanced surveillance- and filtering systems in the world, in the same league as China, which has advanced internet filters and demands that every pc in the country should have an inbuilt internet filter by July 1. Through Iranians writing on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, we know that Iranian government have shut down internet access all together for periods, or more commonly, selected sites.
What if internet access was declared a human right? The French Constitutional Court said (in relation to the three-strikes case): “The internet is a fundamental human right that cannot be taken away by anything other than a court of law, only when guilt has been established there”.
Cory Doctorow has already predicted that the a UN convention will enshrine network access as a human right.
This should be a topic at UN’s next General Assembley this fall.
Author: Bente Kalsnes
This article was 03/07/2009.