Since the beginning of world history, it has been a practice of corrupt leaders, governments, and powerful men of all types to keep control of the people by controlling the information they had. An educated and informed people can learn to work together to rid themselves of tyranny and oppression, as history has often shown.
Today, there is a new weapon available to the common people, a tool that can be used to access unimaginable amounts of information and spread it quickly amongst a population. This incredible piece of technology is commonly referred to as the Internet. Now here is a question for you. Should access to the resources and information provided by the Internet be a basic human right?
This question comes to mind because of recent world events involving the Internet and its role in major historical events. I’m referring mainly to the protests and revolutions that have occurred recently in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Iran that the Internet has been said to have influenced, fueled, or helped organized.
These events may have taken place without the Internet involved. In fact Egypt’s government tried to stop the protests by shutting down the countries internet access, but that only seemed to throw gasoline on the fire. Just yesterday Libya too shut down their government run internet service, but as reported by the Aljazeera network, the protests have since spread and become more intense.
The Internet not only helped the people of Egypt to organize through social media networks such as Facebook, it also brought support from around the world. Before the internet, the story may have made the nightly news, viewed by a few million people. With the Internet billions of people across the globe are watching. Here in Cincinnati, supporters gathered on the corner of Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Ave near the University of Cincinnati to support the people of Egypt. It is possible without the eyes of the world Egypt’s revolution could have been much more violent and bloodier.
So the internet has helped some protesters overcome bad situations, why should it be a basic human right? People lived without the internet for millennia before the internet was around. You could argue that it’s a luxury for those who can afford it, but you are then probably the same person who believes that if you don’t have insurance you should bleed out in the waiting room of the ER.
The U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights has laid down what every human naturally has rights to. According to Article 1, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Article 26 states, “Everyone has a right to education. Education shall be free…” Then Article 19 is “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression…” and finally Article 27 adds “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
Now consider what the internet is. It is a global network of shared cultural life stored in bits of information on computers not owned by anyone person or organization. It is a free resource with access to a multitude of educational materials. It is forum for expression ideas and opinions to share with the rest of the world. So, if we are all born equal in rights, and are afforded said rights from this declaration of human rights, then by all means the Internet and access to it uncensored should be a basic human right.
There are many governments that keep their people in the dark, limited and censoring what information they can access over the Internet. China, Cuba, and North Korea are some examples of where these practices take place. Since the people don’t have access to the same knowledge and information most of the rest of the world has, they are being denied some basic human rights.
Censorship in non-democratic nations isn’t the only issue. Where do we have to draw the line with our own government and what they can and cannot do with the Internet? One hot topic in the U.S. right now concerning the Internet is Net Neutrality. Does the government have the right or perhaps the obligation to insure that the private companies that provide people access to the Internet allow all information regardless of what it is or where it comes from?
Another hot button domestic issue that has come up in the news again is a “Kill Switch” bill that is going to be reintroduced. This bill essentially gives the President the ability to shutdown internet services in the event of a major Cyber Terrorist attack to protect U.S. online economic assets. This brings a favorite quote to mind;
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The world is changing; technology is speeding up that change. The internet helps put power into the hands of every single person that has access to it, for once finally giving people the power over their own lives in a very raw democratic way. It has helped bring the world closer together, from Cincinnati to Cairo; it is the start of a true global society. To limit any one person or group from being able to participate in this new community is taking away one of their basic human rights.
Please leave a comment below and express your thoughts.