It all began, in the revolutionary 1969. The United States Department of Defence initiated a research project to establish boundless communication platform that ultimately created ARPANET. Eventually, the Internet became the ancestor of that initiative. (Kahn; 2014) Ever since, this newly created technology has advanced virally and further implemented itself into our everyday activities, essentially becoming a sensitive tool for globalisations. Initially, ARPANET was created out of frustration of limitation in numbers of powerful research computers, that at the time for geographical means were not accessible to research investigators. (Lievrouw; 2006) Therefore, if considering the platform as an informational tool to bring people together, it has become unarguably the best source of learning and communicating in the course of the past decades.
With the rapid Internet progression and the benefits that it provides, the world was left with nothing but to welcome it with open arms. The joy of using the platform did not last long, however. In the past few years, it h?s rightfully spark?d hot debat?s on how f?r do we h?ve to go in ?rder to bring ?ur c?nception of fund?ment?l rights in lin? with the m?dern w?ys. In 2016, we witnessed the outburst of headlines, around the world, stating that the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution, which reaffirms Internet access as a human right. The non-biding resolution advocates each states commitment to:
‘address security concerns on the Internet in accordance with their obligations to protect freedom of expression, privacy and other human rights online…’ further stressing that
‘he same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.’ (Human Rights Council; 2016)
That in particular to the freedom of expression, which is protected by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The significance to protect and promote human rights is to allow an individual to implement their potential to the fullest, by preserving their emotional and physical well being. With that in mind, if considering the platform as a critical factor that preserves and advances human rights in today’s knowledge-based societies, perhaps the United Nations’s advocacy is very well justified. Nonetheless, further investigation on the matter reveals that the need for access to Internet does not automatically accredit it as a basic human right, as it scarce durability in its means. It carries the risk of being phased out by newly innovated technology, therefore it is solely a device simply promoting human rights, yet it is not a human right on its own. (Tomalty; 2017) With that controversy, it is safe to argue that United Nations’s introduction to the resolution is to bring emphasis on the significance of safe Internet access for the execution of various rights. The UN thrives to achieve increasement in Internet use as it promotes opportunities and allows access to education and other relevant tools. With the acknowledgement, that Internet is a necessary source of information, the resolution calls for states to impose new security regulations, promoting freedom and it’s secure use. (Human Rights Council; 2016) Arguably, this, however, does not make it a human right to Internet access, as one can be seen as means to fulfil human rights, without it being one in itself. For instance, owning bicycle facilitates various human rights, as the right to a basic standard of life and the right to freedom of movement. Yet, it would be odd to state that one has a human right to bicycle. (Tomalty; 2017) Contrarily, one’s rights can be violated by being prevailed from enjoying a good, even if that good is not a human right.
Since the platform has become of such importance universally, may be it does deserve to be given the status of an international legal human right. This essay will closely study the subject by advocating both opposing arguments. It will apply and justify the principles facilitating natural and legal rights, relying on scholars teachings. Further elaborating on results from a global survey, conducted for the solo purpose to measure the importance of Internet access. The paper will draw conclusions by advocating opposing actors on the resolution, in order to deliver objective conclusion on the subject.
So, were the worldwide objections over-dramatic, when in 2011 the governments of Syria and Egypt attempted to regulate the inflow of information from their voters, by restricting access to Internet and various other types of communication? (Chipchase; 2011) Or when several social media websites were throttled after the terrorist attack on Istanbul’s airport; or during the local protests in Bahrain and India followed by mobile internet shut downs? Were these people just silenced or were they prohibited their basic human rights? and why was the impact of this so outrageous? Has Internet access reached the potential status of basic need, such as food and gas?
Let us start from the top, by clarifying the ambiguity in the application of the term – human rights. When the subject of human rights is addressed, most of the time it is a reference to the civil or quasi-civil rights that are articulated in the universal human rights documents, know to us as the ‘United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’, and the ‘International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’. These are examples of universally recognised documents that establish legal human rights norms. In other circumstances, when human rights are appealed to, people tend to refer to natural human rights, that consist of basic rights that derive from the law of nature and advocate for life, property and liberty. (Locke; 1689) Therefore, most of the time when the sensitivity of human rights is in question, parties tend to equivocal between these two concepts. Since the two concepts differentiate in their moral entities, it is crucial to avoid that equivocation.
“…to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own judgement, and Reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.” (Hobbes; 1651)
According to Hobbes, to deny these rights would be ludicrous, in fact, it would lead to inevitably to a paradigm of “war of all against all”. Hobbes teaches, for us to reach peaceful and secure life, we must create moral obligations in spite of our natural rights, in order to create political and civil society. This is probably the first formation of the theory of governance, recognised as a social contract. So what does this mean really? If we apply Hobbes’s theories to nowadays politics, does this automatically mean it is governments responsibility to embrace progression in any form, and thus obligated to create a safer environment for all to enjoy what is rightfully ours to enjoy. Natural rights are embedded in the fundamental interests, shared by all of us. Such as the common interest of social progression, evolution and security. With that in mind, it is rather hard to argue how can there exist a natural right to Internet access, as the need for acquiring access is not adequately fundamental. And will it ever? Considering Internet’s historical contingency. For thousands of years, people have thrived to evolve, in fact, the Internet is a direct result of this drive. It is an inevitable process of the progressive world that we live in. However, we may predict that with time new technologies will overlap the need for Internet access; making it irrelevant, thus it is not a basic need.
Interestingly, following this, it appears there should not be a legal right to Internet access either. Legal rights are a social construct, unlike natural rights that preserve moral reality, which is beyond our skill to manipulate. By contrast, if we are to analyse the newly introduced regulations by the UN, to ascertain whether there shall be a legal human right to internet access, it is essential that we understand how their content is justified. (Tomalty; 2017) Presuming, that legal human rights are mostly legal interpretation of natural human rights, therefore, the meaning of ought to be a legal right to a particular good, depends entirely on it there is a natural law to it. Leaving us with the thought, since there is no natural right to internet access, there should not be a corresponding legal right to it either.
Let’s us, however, ignore this for the sake of the argument. Content-wise, we have established that international legal human rights are broader and more definitive in comparison to natural rights. For instance, there is a clause to the right of nationality as well as to form or be a member of trade unions, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As they both are historically contingent, automatically we may argue that they cannot object to natural rights, meaning that should not be counted as a legal human right also. ?nd th?n ag?in, why sh?uld w? think this in th? ?bs?nce of s?me g??d reas?n for thinking ?f leg?l hum?n rights ?s simply leg?l ?xpressions of n?tural rights?
According to the new Internet & American Life Project, in the United States, around 92% of their society daily relies on multiple sources for news, such as Television, traditional print, radio and online sources. Among those who depend on Internet access are 75%, who receive news letters via email or posts on social networking websites. Via those websites, 52% of their readers further share informative links, leaving us with the conclusion that those who do not have Internet access are misinformed. That deprives them of their freedom of expression as well as their ability to connect with their society and the world. (Pew Research Center; 2017) Why it is necessary to mention those statistics, as a large nation as the United Nations, proves that the concept of Internet connectivity as a basic human right is a daily practice. Could we justify in that manner a legal human right to Internet Access? Unarguably, the platform has become the most important tool for expression of opinion and news spreading. Providing mass opportunities for an extensive range of forms of association. The need for Internet access is grounds those natural rights. On the other hand, it can be argued that people can still enjoy the freedom of expression and association, presuming they would print their thought in the newspapers or publicly assembly. Nonetheless, those rights do not simply require for an individual to at least have some liberty to express and associate themselves. R?ther, they ?re fulfill?d ?nly to the ?xt?nt th?t p?ople h?ve ?dequ?te ?pportuniti?s to ?xpress th?ms?lves ?nd t? ?ss?ciate. (Tomalty; 2017)
As mentioned above, the United Nations’s introduction to the resolution is to bring emphasis on the significance of safe Internet use for the execution of those basic human rights. The first person to bring our attention to the importance of preserving these rights, online, was Frank La Rue. During his time as the UN Special Rapporteur, he presented 10 landmark r?ports that provid?d ext?nsive c?nclusions on affairs such as the pr?tection of j?urnalists, fr?edom of ?xpression ?xercised thr?ugh Intern?t, and the imp?ct of st?te surv?illance ?n priv?cy and fr?edom of expr?ssion. (UNESCO; 2016) La Rue addresses crucial trends and challenges to the right of an individual to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of all sorts via the Internet. The report emphasises the unique essence and transformative nature of the platform, not just as a stepping stop for one to exercise their fundamental rights, yet to promote the progressiveness of a society. (APC; 2011)
The Executive Director of Article 19, Thomas Hughes, stated that UN’s resolution is:
“a much-needed response to increased pressure on freedom of expression online in all parts of the world” (Independent; 2016)
further elaborating that
“From impunity for the killings of bloggers to laws criminalising legitimate dissent on social media, basic human rights principles are being disregarded to impose greater controls over the information we see and share online.” (Independent; 2016)
Despite Hughes good point, 17 countries opposed the resolution, in particular, the clause stating that it ‘condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online’. (La Rue; 2011) Among them were Russia, China and Saudi Arabia, as well as the democratic republics of India and South Africa. Not coincid?nt?lly, the n?tions that wer? first to opp?se the n?wly resoluti?n ?re am?ng the c?untri?s with the w?rst rec?rds of hum?n rights abus?. That is why it has become such a crucial issue, as it is becoming an expanding common practice for oppressive governments to control free expression and shut down access to Internet. (Fox News; 2016)
To arbitrarily prevent people from Internet access constitutes oppressive intervention to their right to freedom of expression and association. However, it would be impractical to constantly have international laws modified. At the end of the day, the United Nations introduced a non-biding resolution for adequate regulation on Internet use. Given the tendency of the platform becoming obsolete in the near future, access to it, however, does not warrant the status of an international legal human right. Complying with Hobbes, it is essential that government sustain such environments that would allow for the Internet to freely and unhindered prosper. Following from that, it is reasonable to suggest for governments not to make drastic moves in regards to undue regulations, yet when their involvement is inevitable to should aim to ‘support and enforce a predictable, minimalist, consistent and simple legal environment for commerce’. (Savin; 2017) To conclude with, it is fatal for e-commerce to be facilitated globally.