Is having access to the internet a human right?

  • Awareness
  • 22/01/2018
  • Maltese Safer Internet Centre

So many people in certain parts of the world enjoy access to the internet, using it both for entertainment as well as for information exchange. The internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that enables billions of devices to be connected worldwide. 

The origins of the internet can be traced back to the 1960s. However, it was only in 1989 that it really started being considered a popular social network, thanks to the work of the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. These foundations as a social network were the basis to the World Wide Web, electronic mail, telephony and to the reality of having billions of people from all around the world connected online enjoying services that were not dreamt of in the past. The internet enabled individuals to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders.

According to The United Nations, denying internet access to anyone in the world is a breach of human rights. This is the extent to which people's lives are dependent on the internet today.

Despite the fact that so many people have access to the internet, there remain parts of the world that do not have access, including many people in the developing world. Even worse, there are a number of countries that attempt to restrict or control the content that users have access to – such as in China and Iran – which use extensive firewall systems to block any information from the internet which they perceive to be offensive or threatening to their country.

During 2012, the Internet Society conducted online interviews with over 10,000 internet users in 20 countries. When giving a response to the statement "Access to the internet should be considered a basic human right", 83 per cent responded that they somewhat or strongly agreed, 14 per cent that they somewhat or strongly disagreed, while 3 per cent didn't know.

Internet users today have more advantages and internet tools than in 2012 so internet users might have increased their belief that internet access is a right even more today than six years ago.

The right to internet access, which is also known as the right to broadband or freedom to connect, means that all people must be in a position to access the internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights. So, states have a responsibility to ensure that internet access is broadly available, and that states may not restrict an individual's access to the internet for unreasonable reasons.

The right to internet access is also linked to the right of freedom of speech which can be seen to encompass freedom of expression in it. Thus, the removal or censorship of internet accessibility and free use could be considered as a breach of the human right of freedom of speech.

The internet has become an indispensable tool for realising a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress. During the summer of 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a non-binding resolution which condemned intentional disruption of internet access by governments. The resolution reaffirmed that "the same rights people have offline must also be protected online".

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was convened under the auspice of the United Nations in 2003. The WSIS Declaration of Principles that came out of this summit makes specific reference to the importance of the right to freedom of expression in the "Information Society".

Let us thus appreciate the internet access we enjoy, keeping in mind that this "right" is not enjoyed universally by people in certain parts of the world. And, when we speak of rights responsibilities also come to mind, so let us BeSmartOnline, for our own benefit and safety as well as that of others.

Find out more about the work of the Maltese Safer Internet Centre (SIC), including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services.


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