The Internet isn’t just important, it’s a basic human right.
At least, that’s the claim made by a new report issued by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. Following the recent political demonstrations in Egypt, in which government forces struck back at tech-savvy protestors by severing the region’s link to the Internet, the Council has decried such actions, characterizing Internet access as a “fundamental human right.”
“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, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole,” the report summary states.
But why exactly is the Internet so important? In relatively simple terms, the UN report explains:
Very few if any developments in information technologies have had such a revolutionary effect as the creation of the Internet. Unlike any other medium of communication, such as radio, television and printed publications based on one-way transmission of information, the Internet represents a significant leap forward as an interactive medium. Indeed, with the advent of Web 2.0 services, or intermediary platforms that facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration in the creation of content, individuals are no longer passive recipients, but also active publishers of information. Such platforms are particularly valuable in countries where there is no independent media, as they enable individuals to share critical views and to find objective information. Furthermore, producers of traditional media can also use the Internet to greatly expand their audiences at nominal cost. More generally, by enabling individuals to exchange information and ideas instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders, the Internet allows access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable. This, in turn, contributes to the discovery of the truth and progress of society as a whole.
More specifically, the 22-page report cites the ‘net’s apparent use in “mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights.”
“Facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States,” the report concludes.
Of course, given the limited punitive powers of the United Nations, this report is at best a diplomatic tongue lashing for those political leaders willing to respond to protests by cutting ties to the ‘net. It outlines no actual steps to be taken in the future against those who might seek to duplicate the actions taken by the Egyptian regime, nor does it urge UN member countries, or anyone else to actively prevent Internet outages.
Human rights violation though it might be, this particular report proves a relatively toothless defense against heartless totalitarian rulers who inexplicably hate Nyan Cat.