Is the internet a fundamental right of all people?
A poll for the BBC has shown that most people think that the internet should be a fundamental right for everyone. 79% of adults, almost four in five people regard internet access as a fundamental right. While many in the west often say we could not survive without the internet it is perhaps surprising how many in developing countries seem to agree with the sentiment.
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Most people seem to think so
In a poll of 27,000 adults conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC 87 per cent of those who used the internet felt that internet access should be "the fundamental right of all people." This seems like an astonishingly high number. Indeed almost as many people without internet access agreed as 71% said they thought it is a fundamental right which is possibly even more surprising since they are unlikely to have so much idea of the range of uses the internet has.
Some countries had very high numbers indeed thinking that the internet is a fundamental right but this was not confined to developed countries. South Korea was not too surprisingly given internet penetration in the country the highest with 96% saying it is a fundamental right but Mexico with 94% and China with 87% thinking it was a right were also very high overall.
China is particularly interesting as the Chinese have often seemed not to be particularly bothered about the great firewall. So what do they think this fundamental right is for? A fundamental right to play world of warcraft? Rather than a right to freedom of information which would seem to be the more obvious freedom of the internet. In the poll only 16% of Chinese strongly agreed that the internet should never be regulated by government about half the figure for most other countries. Even so in the poll Two-thirds of Chinese web users attach most value to the internet’s role as an information too which is considerably higher than the average so perhaps it is the Chinese government which is doing very well in not showing us the discontent about the firewall.
Something we will not give up.
While the internet is not something we could not live without it is something that most people once they have tried it and had access to it will not live without. Everyone cuts back on some things during bad times but it seems that access to the internet is not something that we will reduce our expenditure on even when cutting back on everything else. So while we cut costs on other technologies such as the telephone and TV we have during the recession continued to pay for our internet. Some have even been cutting back on gas and electricity – which would normally be considered much more vital – before their internet speeds.
It is a measure of how dependent we are becoming on the internet that 44% said they did not think they could cope without the internet. This was also not only the case in developed countries but perhaps even more so in some developing countries like China, Thailand and Mexico.
Hardly a fundamental right
While the internet is useful it is hardly a fundamental right, it is not something we need or can’t live without. So while the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human rights are applicable to everyone can we really say that a right to the internet should be alongside rights such as ‘the right to life, liberty and security of person’, ‘recognition everywhere as a person before the law’, equality, freedom of movement etc.
Or not to ‘be held in slavery or servitude’, ‘subjected to torture’, arbitrary arrest etc. Somehow a ‘right to access the internet’ just does not fit. It is useful but not something that should be guaranteed. We can all go on just fine when we do not have access to the internet. Cutting off our access to the internet may be inconvenient but it will pose no particular dangers.
Other ways of doing all the things the internet does.
There are many other possible sources for the things that the internet provides. With the internet you can shop from home, but you could by mail order, or catalogues or even by telephone before the arrival of the internet.
Communications are a big change driven by the internet. Email rather than letters. Telephone over the internet. Online chat rooms and social networks. However these are all an extension of offline things. We already have social networks of friends and the internet may even damage them. We could already communicate by other methods, by telephone, mail etc.
The main advantage of the internet is access to information, but that was something that was available before in other forms. Previously we buy books and newspapers. Watch the TV and listen to the radio. Go to libraries and archives and the list goes on. There is not much more information available the only difference is that the internet is the one place to look for information rather than information being split all over the world.
What do you think?