With many initiatives to bring the Internet to third-world countries, ensure its availability under oppressive regimes and increased spending to bring technology into classrooms, Vint Cerf's -- a man often referred to as the father of the Internet -- recent op-ed in the New York Times may come as a surprise to you.
The headline: Internet Access Is Not a Human Right
In his piece, Cerf talks about the success recent protests have had thanks to use of the Internet to spread the message. With that has come questioning over whether "Internet access is or should be a civil or human right." Cerf notes that governments in countries like France and Estonia have declared that the Internet is a human right, but Cerf says:
But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things.
With that, let's consider a few examples reported on The Blaze over the last few years where access to Internet was given the term "right" and instances where technology was "exalted" enough to ...:
- In August 2011, Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide said that it considered access to the Internet a civil right. Here are more examples of those believing Internet is a right from that article:
Back in December 2010, The Blaze brought you a video of FTC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn(daughter of Rep. James Clyburn) discussing her belief that the Internet must become an “open platform.” During this same month, another FCC Commissioner, Michael Copps, said, “Universal access to broadband needs to be seen as a civil right…[though] not many people have talked about it that way.”
Over at The Huffington Post, telecom researcher Chris Mitchell writes that, as a result of its merger with NBC, Comcast is required to make the Internet affordable and available to 2.5 million low-income households over the next two years. Interestingly, Comcast’s Executive Vice-President David Cohen had the following to say about the civil rights issue: “Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century. It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”
- There have been at least two instances of in 2011 where public school funds were designated to providing iPad access to 5 and 6-year-old students. For one school in Auburn, Maine, about $200,000 was spent to give nearly 300 kindergarteners "a revolution in education." Shortly after, a school in Massachusetts said it would buy $25,000 worth of iPads for kindergarteners. In both cases, the iPads were met with excitement over a new teaching tool or skepticism that the tool would be effective at such a young age and if it was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.
- In this video, Jesse Jackson says the way to raise unemployment is to change the Constitution so that every student had the right to a good education and notes giving every kid an iPod and a laptop would accomplish both goals:
To bring it back to Cerf, the co-founder of the Internet writes that "critical freedoms", like that of speech or access to information, should not be considered "bound" to technology:
Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring Internet access a human right, acknowledged that the Internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
Cerf states that he believes the same logic can be applied to the argument that the Internet is a civil right. Cerf goes on to write that the creators of technology have the responsibility to uphold human and civil rights but the Internet is still just a means to improving the human condition and that we should not "pretend that access to it is a right."
Here are some responses on Twitter to Cerf's statement:
Back in August, we polled Blaze readers on the topic if access to the Internet should be considered a "civil right". The poll results found that 96.6 percent of respondents felt that it was not a civil right. Check out the poll results here.