Kasper Falkensteen, Chair Evaluating the legitimacy of internet as a human right

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Human Rights Council (HRC)

Research Report

Topic 4: Evaluating the legitimacy of internet as a human right

Kasper Falkensteen, Chair

Evaluating the legitimacy of internet as a human right
This Research Report regards the topic of: “Evaluating the legitimacy of internet as a human right.” The internet today has profound effect upon our society and at times it may be hard to imagine a life without it. This report aims to clarify some of the controversies and issues, as well as advantages to making the internet a human right. It is important to consider what a human right is, before considering whether the internet should be one. Seeing as the UN has already passed a resolution on the issue of human rights on the internet, just half a year ago, it is a very new and relevant issue. The questions essential to this topic is; should the internet be a human right? And why or why not?
Definition of Key Terms

  • CERN -  The European Organization for Nuclear Research.1

  • World Wide Web - An information system on the Internet which allows documents to be connected to other documents by hypertext links, enabling the user to search for information by moving from one document to another.2

  • The Right to Internet Access (Right to Broadband): The view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to Freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamnetal human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual's access to the Internet.3

Background Information

The internet, or the World Wide Web (WWW), was developed in the 1980s at CERN in Switzerland. Essentially it is a network where information is shared, accessible through routers connected to the same network. The growth and significance of the internet can hardly be overstated. In 1993 the internet communicated 1% of all telecommunication, today it is estimated to communicate more than 97%.4 Present day, the internet is seemingly an inexhaustible source of information, that is used by everyone reading this very Research Report. Entire institutions, organizations and even nations would likely descend into chaos if the internet broke down permanently, so much do we depend on it today.
The question then remains, why should something so essential, useful and enriching, not be a human right? If we look upon the definition of a human right, we may deduce whether access to the internet should be a human right: The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are considered to be entitled, often held to include the rights to life, liberty, equality, and a fair trial, freedom from slavery and torture, and freedom of thought and expressions.5 Evaluating the right of freedom of expression for example, one can argue that the internet is essential to express oneself to a larger number of people. Whilst there are alternatives to the internet, in terms of expressing oneself, the internet is indeed the most effective and far-reaching way of communication. In addition, we may even consider the prospect of equality. Is a human being, without access to the internet, really equal to another human being that has access to the internet? Looking upon the traditional meaning of the word equal, of course they are not equal seeing as one has internet and the other does not. Of course this is true about many other things as well, like some may have a PlayStation whilst others do not. However, the internet is an exceptional example seeing as it is such an essential, useful, easily accessible and relatively cheap service. Can one really be competitive in modern society without internet?
Issues do arise when debating whether the internet should be a human right or not. How much of the internet should be granted as a human right? Currently there are many examples of state-censored internet, such as that imposed in China.6 Should the internet always be accessible to anyone? If the internet is to be a human right, does everyone have to be provided with technology to access the internet? It can also be argued that the internet is not essential to a human being and that its consideration as a human right, would initiate the degradation of the human rights. Many nations would oppose to having a free internet for its people where unbiased information can be gathered and opinions expressed freely. The International Telecommunications union estimated that about 3.2 billion people or 48% of the worlds´ population has access to the internet (2015).7 As reflected through the figures, there is still a long way until everyone has access to the internet. A survey of 10 000 internet users, across 20 countries, proved that 83% strongly agreed that internet should be a human right, 14% somewhat agreed and 3% didn’t know.8 Fundamental rights, besides those already mentioned, that relate to the right to internet access or the right to broadband, are: The Right to Development and the Right to Freedom of Assembly. Some arguments for why broadband should be a human right, as these are, are as follows:
The Right to Development –  "without Internet access, which facilitates economic development and the enjoyment of a range of human rights, marginalized groups and developing States remain trapped in a disadvantaged situation, thereby perpetuating inequality both within and between States."9 – Frank La Rue, in his 2011 report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.10
Right to Freedom of Assembly - “cyber space, after all, is the public square of the 21st century“ -U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton11
Conversely, some argue that the internet cannot possibly be considered a human right, like Vint Cerf, sometimes referred to as the father of the internet, who states: “Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself.“12
Major Countries and Organisations Involved

France - In 2009, the Constitutional Council of France declared access to the internet to be a basic human right.13

Finland – By July 2010, every person in Finland was to receive internet access.14

Estonia – By 2000 the Estonian government initiated a huge program to expand internet access to the countryside. The government argues that the internet is essential for life in the 21st century.15

China – Its new cybersecurity law, said to be in effect by June 2017, is estimated by rights´ advocates to tighten internet censorship in China further.16

Iran – Enforces extensive censorship on its internet.17

Syria – Censorship of pornographic online content as well as pro-Israel, hyper-Islamist and pro-autonomy of the Kurds websites.18

Democratic Peoples´ Republic of Korea – Strict censorship of the internet.19

World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) – Emphasising the importance of information sharing. 20

Amnesty International – Defends the right to a free, uncensored internet.21

A Human Right - Estimates that 4.6 billion people worldwide currently do not have Internet

access and that increasing access to the Internet by just 10% can add 1.28% - 2.5% to the GDP of developing countries.
Relevant UN Resolutions

The United Nations resolution passed in June 2016, called The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:


Previous Attempts to Solve the Issue

In the summer of 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution that condemned intentional disruption of internet access by governments.22 The major concern addressed in the resolution is that people should have the same rights online as they do offline. 23

Several nations have taken domestic steps to make internet available to its citizens, however has yet to do so on a global basis.

The topic is relatively new and is still cause for disagreement, hence there has not been many attempts, as of yet, to solve the issue.

Possible Solutions

The establishment of International organizations that intend to defend the freedom of expression of everyone on the internet.24 Propose the creation of free as well as far-reaching internet hotspots, whilst not free, examples of networks similar are those provided by telephone companies (3G, 4G). Creating an organization designed to provide local libraries with computers. Make proposals to emphasise the importance of internet education in schools. Have a test of the concept of freedom of broadband in a country of low internet usage, in order to evaluate the legitimacy of the overall idea of making the freedom of broadband a human right.













1 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cern

2 https://www.google.dk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=world+wide+web+definition

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

5 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/human+rights

6 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/07/chinas-new-cybersecurity-law-sparks-fresh-censorship-and-espionage-fears

7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Internet_usage

8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access

9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

14 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

15 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29


17 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29

18 https://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/1114/7WJLTA295.pdf?sequence=8

19 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37426725

20 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access#cite_note-nytimes.com-29


22 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access


24 https://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/1114/7WJLTA295.pdf?sequence=8

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