Is access to the Internet a human right?

07 November 2012 - A Workshop on Baku,Azerbaijan


Recent developments have made finding an answer to the question of whether there should be a right to access the Internet more pressing. The Internet has increasingly become a fundamental medium for trade, education, government-citizen interaction, as well as individual communication needs. Such centrality poses the question if every individual should have a right to access the Internet.

In his 2011 report to the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue, concluded that Internet access is key to enjoy the right to freedom of expression, and should not only be actively encouraged, but must also never be denied from individuals. In contrast, in a much discussed opinion article in the New York Times in January 2012, Vint Cerf strongly criticized any assertion of a specific technology or medium being given the status of basic human right.

Some countries, such as Estonia, Spain and Finland have legislated that all their citizens are entitled to access the Internet, sometimes even with broadband connectivity. A survey conducted by the BBC asserted that 79% of those polled around the world believed Internet access should be a human right. However, some countries, including France and Ireland, allow for Internet users to be cut off from the Internet when found in repeated violation of intellectual property rights. This poses the question whether Internet access is merely a luxury, from which people may be deprived.

Recognizing these national and international developments on a right to access, this workshop brings together technologists, regulators, development experts, and civil society representatives, to address the following questions in the agenda.

1. Panelists discuss

* What are human rights? *
What is the international human rights framework? What are some of the arguments for access to the internet being considered such a right? What are the arguments against?

*Is there a right to Internet access?*
What do national and international law currently say with regard to such a right?
What would be required for such a right to become legally established?

*What would the consequences of adopting Internet access as a human right entail?*
Would establishing such a right help bridge the digital divide? What advantage would a right to access entail for development in the global south?
Would a right to access affect the way national Internet infrastructures are built
Should governments impose Internet connectivity, or is qualitative Internet connectivity better served by market incentives?
What risks are involved in establishing a right to access?

2. Discussion with workshop attendants and remote participants

3. Panelists discuss

*What would a right to Internet access look like?*
What would such a right mean in terms of required content (including network neutrality), speed, universality, anonymity, privacy, and digital literacy?
Would such a right be enshrined as a universal service provision, or by a human right approach?

4. Discussion with workshop attendants and remote participants