In the United States, we take some things for granted. Take Internet access. Our Internet adoption rate has soared so high, some of us can’t imagine what it’s like to be digitally cut off from the rest of the world. Approximately 10 percent of U.S. adults were going online in 1995, says Pew Internet & American Life Project. Fast forward to August 2011, and the figure shoots up to 78 percent. (And that’s just the grown-ups. At the same point in time, a whopping 95 percent of teens were online.)
And so the vast majority of our citizenry may not understand the United Nations’ declaration that online access is a basic human right, because… well, isn’t practically everyone already on the Internet anyway?
Uh, that would be a big “no.” According to Internet World Stats, only about one-third of the world can get online. And that even takes into count those who can, but under strict supervision and managed access, such as China. (Interestingly, as reported in the media, China’s reaction to this resolution seems to cast the country in an awkward light, as it tried to defend its own regimented approach to the webs. Ultimately, though, it did support the declaration. As a member of the UNHRC, it kind of had to.) In the end, every member state of the council signed the resolution declaring that all people have a right to access and express themselves online. While not as essential as food, water and basic human respect, the measure is more a statement about freedom of expression than anything else. And that makes it a human right.
In that context, it makes perfect sense. As outrageous as it is to silence people or cut them off from communication and information in the real world, so should it be in the online world as well.
What do you think? Is online access a human right or a privilege? And either way, does your opinion change, depending on whether the subject is a nation or an individual?
Full disclosure: My sister is a human rights officer with the United Nations in Geneva. I reached out to her for comment, but other than catching up on personal matters and other important topics (at least to the Lee family), she couldn’t make any remarks. So any opinions expressed here are solely mine.