Whacky Weekend: Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Richard Barnes richard.barnes at gmail.com
Fri Jan 6 04:52:58 UTC 2012

The analogy that occurs to me is to roads.  People generally have a
right of free movement, which implies that if they are capable of
using roads (e.g., if they have a car and can drive it), then they
should be generally free to do so, certain reasonable legal
constraints notwithstanding.  And in this case, the reasonableness of
constraints arises from the fact that things like driving licenses and
road signs are based on clear safety concerns.

Mapping this over to the Internet: People generally have a right of
free expression, which implies that if they are capable of using the
Internet, they should be generally free to use it, certain reasonable
legal constraints not withstanding.

The human right in question, then, isn't a right to Internet access
per se; people aren't entitled to a broadband link any more than
they're entitled to live near good roads.  (Note, however, that
communities typically try to maintain their roads to a certain
standard.)  Rather, the right is to a certain *class* of Internet
access, free of unnecessary constraints.

The question of legal constraints and "reasonableness" is much
thornier in this domain; you're not going to kill someone by sending
them spam.  (Well, maybe with SCADA systems, but we'll put that aside
for now.)  The obvious cases (e.g., child porn) are to some degree
already covered, although there's some variation around the globe
(Nazi propaganda in France).  The debate over PROTECT-IP is at some
level about whether and which constraints on Internet usage based on
copyright constraints are reasonable.


On Thu, Jan 5, 2012 at 10:22 AM, Jay Ashworth <jra at baylink.com> wrote:
> Vint Cerf says no: http://j.mp/wwL9Ip
> But I wonder to what degree that's dependent on how much our governments make
> Internet access the most practical/only practical way to interact with them.
> Understand: I'm not saying that FiOS should be a human right.  But as a
> society, America's recognized for decades that you gotta have a telephone,
> and subsidized local/lifeline service to that extent; that sort of subsidy
> applies to cellular phones now as well.
> Thoughts?
> Cheers,
> -- jr 'yes, I know I'm early...' a
> --
> Jay R. Ashworth                  Baylink                       jra at baylink.com
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