Is Internet Access A Human Right?

(Listen to this article on the Sky Alpha Breakfast Show)

WHY IS INTERNET ACCESS IMPORTANT?

Access to the internet is crucial today. Access to Wi-Fi networks and to a mobile internet connection aids education, business and information sharing nationally and globally. In today’s world, it is almost essential to be able to access internet to set up businesses and communicate with others – much of what happens today is now operated online.

WHY IS IT CONSIDERED A HUMAN RIGHT?

Access to the internet is considered a human right by the United Nations due to the information and platform it provides. Because the internet facilitates self-expression, access to the internet is considered a tool of free speech. Therefore, restrictions to the internet are seen as hindering to rights of expression and opinion. This right can be suppressed through purposeful removal of internet connections or censorship of websites – a purposeful denial of access. It can also be restricted by lack of infrastructure, and poor bandwidth in certain areas of a country. This is a non purposeful denial of access, but still dependent on the actions or inaction of a government that lead to delays in the implementation of infrastructure.

HOW HAS THIS RIGHT BEEN CHALLENGED?

Most recently, the withdrawal of internet access has been discussed in relation to Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have been experiencing internet access cut offs for days at a time in response to protests. Internet shutdowns restrict access to social media, impeding citizen to citizen communication (another way of doing this is through taxation). It also has a wider effect on those who may not be involved in the protests – restricting access to information for widespread purposes: schools, businesses, homes.

WHY IS THIS CENSORSHIP?

This is censorship, as it is a non-consensual (without permission) removal of services, particularly social media and communications in order to try and control behaviour. It has already become a widespread tactic, originating in China, and occurring in 5 countries worldwide in the first month of 2019 (including the DRC and Zimbabwe).

IS THERE A BETTER SOLUTION?

Removal of internet access is a tool to disengage protest, and may incite violence and further protest. Allowing internet access, while working to tackle citizen concerns may be a more productive solution long-term.

CONCLUSION

Therefore, both sides of access denial – purposeful and not, constitute either a violation or simply a lack of attention to this right. Purposeful denial of internet access is the more pressing issue for human rights, which could require greater international regulation to ensure less censorship of expression.  

MATHILDA WALTERS

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