Whacky Weekend: Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Dave Israel davei at otd.com
Thu Jan 5 16:48:06 UTC 2012

On 1/5/2012 11:29 AM, Leo Bicknell wrote:
> In a message written on Thu, Jan 05, 2012 at 11:09:59AM -0500, Jay Ashworth wrote:
>> Didn't *say* broadband.  Didn't even say "Internet service".  Said "Internet
>> *access*", in the non-techspeak meaning of those words.
> For the purposes of my e-mail and this point in time, they are all
> synonymous.
> That is, if "interenet access" is a right, providing someone a
> 9600bps dial up does not, in my mind, qualify.  That might qualify
> for e-mail access, but you can not use a reasonable fraction of the
> Internet at that access speed.  Similarly, denying someone internet
> service denies them internet access.  The only difference between your
> terms and mine, is that mine are fixed to this point in time while
> yours is a general concept that may move in the future.  One day 50Mbps
> broadband may not qualify anymore as "internet access" due to where the
> interernet ends up.

I think you're still thinking of service, as opposed to access.  Public 
terminals, say at libraries, are also access.  Free public wifi is also 

> But let's take a specific (famous) example.  Kevin Mitnick.  From
> his wikipedia page:
>    "During his supervised release, which ended on January 21, 2003, he was
>    initially forbidden to use any communications technology other than a
>    landline telephone."
> If Internet access (to use your term) had been a human right than
> his human rights were violated by the government when they banned
> him from using any communications technology.  Do we really want to
> suggest that banning him from using the computer is the same level of
> violation as enslaving him, torturing him, or even killing him?

Clearly not, at least at this point in history.  Internet access is more 
like access to transportation; the law implicitly requires you to have 
it (in the form of being able to compel a person to appear at a given 
place and time), but not only fails to mandate its availability, but 
includes provisions for explicitly denying access to it in some cases.

Internet access becomes a human right only when your other, more basic 
human rights depend on it.  If a person without internet access cannot 
obtain food, shelter, or basic transportation, then it is a human right.

As an aside, your example is flawed, because judicial punishment does 
involve a loss, or at least a curtailment, of what many people consider 
to be basic rights.


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