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Human rights come from the need to protect individuals from the arbitrary power of the state. Human rights are
“international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.”[1] There
have been attempts to codify human rights internationally through agreements particularly the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights signed in 1948. This listed a large number of political, social and economic rights that are supposed to be
universally held. Despite this there is no universally followed list of rights and there is the possibility that more human
rights may over time become recognised or become necessary where there was not the need before. Internet access is
an obvious example of this; the internet was only invented in 1973 and the world wide web in 1989. As the internet has
become a vital conduit for information only in the last decade it could not have been considered a human right only a
few decades ago.

Just as there is no definitive list of human rights that is universally recognised what exactly the criteria for what a right
into a human right is open for dispute. The Human Rights Reference Handbook characterises them as being:

 Inherent in all human beings by virtue of their humanity alone (they do not have, e.g., to be purchased or to
be granted so are universal)
 Inalienable (within qualified legal boundaries)
 Equally applicable to all.[2]

Several other features of human rights may also be added to these. They are based upon the relationship between
government and the people rather than two individuals, and the responsibility for these rights primarily falls upon the
government. They are minimal standards; what we cannot fall below rather than what we would like to have. As they
are universal they need to have strong justifications that can apply everywhere so that they can be recognised in all
cultures.[3] This potentially provides a high threshold for considering a right to be a human right.

Internet access might be considered a human right in and of itself in which case there is a need for the concept of
internet access to meet the above conditions; however it could equally be argued that internet access is already a
human right as a part of human rights that already exist, particularly the freedom of expression.

“A human right to internet access is an interesting concept that needs to be explored. It directly relates to
how we fulfil the first draft principle “We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves,
and to receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.” The internet is the greatest tool of
communication invented so far. It is however becoming much more than this but a separate social sphere in
itself. A human right to internet access may well be necessary to ensure everyone is able to interact in this
sphere.” - Alex Helling

Read an interview of Tim Berners-Lee by Timothy Garton Ash on Free Speech Debate

[1] Nickel, James, "Human Rights", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

[2] Sepulveda, Magdalena, Theo van Banning, Gudrun D. Gudmundsdottir, Christine Chamoun and Willem J.M. van
Genugten eds., Human Rights Reference Handbook, Third edition, University for Peace, 2004, p.6

[3] Nickel, James, "Human Rights", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
s access to the internet a fundamental
human right?
09:45 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

Nearly four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a

fundamental right, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests. Do you think being able to use

the web is a human right?

The survey, in which more than 27,000 adults from 26 countries participated, found strong support for

access to the web. Already countries such as Finland and Estonia have ruled that access to cyberspace is

a human right for their citizens.

Meanwhile, the US has eased sanctions on the sale of online services to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, to help

further web use and support opposition groups.

Is the internet a basic human right? Do you think people who have access to the internet are

better informed? Could you live without being able to access the web?

 Peter Horrocks from BBC World Service about the survey.

 A lengthy report (PDF) released by the United Nations Friday argued that
disconnecting individuals from the Internet is a violation of human rights and
goes against international law. "The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique
and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to
exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression," according to the
report's summary, "but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the
progress of society as a whole."
 A BBC survey of 26 countries in March 2010 found that 79 percent of people believe access
to the Internet is a fundamental right.

 Released after the seventeenth session of the United Nations' Human Rights
Council, the report "on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of
opinion and expression" comes on a day when its message couldn't be more
important. It's the same day, Wired's Threat Level blog points out, that "an
Internet monitoring firm detected that two thirds of Syria's Internet accesshas
abruptly gone dark, in what is likely a government response to unrest in that
 The report's authors speak to a wider issue that we're currently facing, though;
this isn't just a problem in Syria. "[T]he recent wave of demonstrations in
countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role
that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality,
accountability and better respect for human rights," the report notes. "As such,
facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to
online content as possible, should be a priority for all States." Of course, many of
the dictators and leaders across the Middle East region that the report highlights
recognized the power of the Internet early -- and attempted to cut it from their
citizens' lives.
 But people, in most cases, found a way online. In Egypt, for example, we saw
hundreds of individuals using old modems and telephone lines to route their
traffic through a volunteer network around the globe. And we support them. A
survey of 26 countries conducted by the BBC in March 2010 found that nearly
four out of five people (79 percent, to be exact) believe that access to the Internet
is a "fundamental human right."
 Some countries have taken things one step further. Estonia passed a law in 2000,
for example, that declared access to the Internet a basic human right. In 2009,
France followed. Legislators in Costa Rica, in 2010, reached a similar decision. In
2009, Finland, the report notes, "passed a decree ... stating that every Internet
connection needs to have a speed of at least one Megabit per second (broadband
level)." There, should they need to, people will be able to organize even faster.