Internet Access: Your Human Right


Is access to the internet a basic right for everyone? The UN think so

Is access to the internet a basic right for everyone-The UN think so

Last week Frank La Rue, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, raised his concerns that many governments are actively blocking people from accessing the Internet. It is his belief that full and unrestricted access to the Internet is a human right.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights sets outs the rights that each individual is entitled to and this includes the right to communicate freely by any means available.

The Internet was most recently used for the good of human rights during the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. The revolutions which took place were partly organised by individuals communicating and working together online using popular social media tools as well as more traditional email and mobile phone networks.

Twitter and Facebook have both been cited as the platforms used by anti-government protesters in Egypt and Tunisia. Although Egypt eventually shut down mobile phone networks and turned off the Internet to prevent any further collaboration, much of the early planning was conducted using these tools. Youtube was also used to broadcast reports of events taking place to the whole world.

From Flash Mob To Revolution

A few years ago the only people using social media to organise themselves on any large scale were people organising Flash Mobs which would descend on a random location for 5 minutes of frenzied dancing before quietly dispersing. These harmless events could well be the inspiration for those organising revolutions. If you can get 5 hundred random people to unite for 5 minutes of fun just think what the Internet can do to organise 5 million disillusioned and passionate citizens.

Many governments go to great lengths to prevent people from communicating. During the communist regimes of the Soviet era congregations of any nature were not allowed in some states. Allowing people to share experiences and ideas is simply too dangerous. It is interesting to note that the development of mass religion was to do the exact opposite – to control what people believed, to control their desires and actions.

Today the communication is moving to the Internet. It is faster and harder to detect. But some governments do stifle Internet usage and it is this that Frank La Rue is speaking against.

“The unique features of the Internet, which allow individuals to spread information instantly, to organize themselves, and to inform the world about situations of injustice and inequality, have also created fear among governments and the powerful.” Frank La Rue, June 2011.

The Freedom of the Right of Expression

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights speaks of an individual’s right to the freedom of expression. Although Article 19 was written before the Internet was a popular tool for communication (it was written in 1976) it is certainly applicable to communication on the Internet as it states the right to “impart information and ideas of all kinds”.

Article 19
This is Article 19 from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states the following:

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

The Internet is today the most important tool for mass communication and for any government to actively prevent its people from communicating via the Internet is no different from banning public meetings and congregations.

The Need For Speed

However, some people have suggested that just having an Internet connection is no longer good enough – it must be fast. Many social media sites struggle on dial up and for many people broadband connections are simply not an option. Even in the UK broadband still does not reach every household or business.

However, although many governments are investing more money into broadband Internet networks there are alternative solutions. Few people are aware that these services even exist, however, satellite Internet services are providing people with fast Internet connections in locations where broadband cables still do not reach.

Europe’s leading provider of internet via satellite is Bentley Walker. They have recently launched a new Tooway Internet service which provides satellite Internet speeds of up to 10Mb/s. Their services cover most of Europe and are also used by the British military in many overseas bases.

As satellite Internet services widen their reach it is feasible that one day people will be able to access the Internet without their government ever knowing. Governments can control cables and their own Internet service companies but cannot control satellite transmissions.

During the 1960’s we had pirate radio stations broadcasting from ships in the English channel. Soon there could be satellite Internet providers doing the same. It is very likely that the company behind such a movement will be Google.

In November last year it emerged that Google is one of the investors which helped O3b Networks Limited to raise US$1.3 billion to expand its satellite coverage of the developing world. If Google plan to stick to their mission statement “to organise the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful” then pushing satellite Internet to every corner of the world will certainly help them to achieve that goal.

This will certainly make Frank La Rue happy too. Although Google is driven by commercial interests one of the offshoots of its enterprise could be to enhance the human rights in many countries by aiding open discussion, the sharing of knowledge and organisation of popular uprisings. As international barriers are broken down by the Internet, people start to question everything they have been taught by their governments. Revolutions are born.

About: This post is by J Wade, internet entrepeneur and regular commentator at Webologist.

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