Community Manager,

This conversation is closed.

Should the internet be a fundamental right?

80 % people around the world believe that internet access is a fundamental right.
The revolution in Egypt shows that internet (in that case mostly Twitter) is the tool to enhance ideas. is another example of that.
But as the same time people around the world do not have access to this magnificent and even if they have, it is under surveillance.
In we look at the Egyptian revolution, you will that the impact and the spread of the idea of 'we can change our country' came from the internet. Twitter was not only a logistic tool but also a powerful spreading tool.
Mass media follow the revolution on Twitter.
So my question is 'should the internet be a fundamental right?'
And if it is how do we define it?

  • Mar 7 2011: No one can deny that freedom of speech is a fundamental right. Considering that the free speech is mostly exerced online nowadays, denying the access to the internet can be considered censorship. So YES it should be a fundamental right.
  • thumb
    Mar 7 2011: I love this thread. I'm learning a lot. Thanks Farid for starting it.

    A brief anecdote... I remember during my Netscape days going to Istanbul to consult in an online newspaper project for Hurrieyt (sp?) People there felt that this was the second coming for freedom of expression.and everyone wanted to be part of it. I think the world is catching up to that sentiment. It's so exciting to be part of what's happening.
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: When Muhamed Elbaradi (awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005) came to Egypt in 2009 and talked in Tv shows about our opportunities to change regime and live in more democratic country that enhance our human rights and our rights to live with dignity we thought that this was just a dream that can't happen as the regime is going to be powered more and more by his corrupt businessmen that control everything in our life even the parliament which was falsified.Finally i found an invitation in Facebook site to go to streets just go there rise your hands and say no and ask for justice for bread , first i hesitated anybody went in streets before was arrested by security state i thought that this would't work with this regime and in jan 25 i found all people in streets all accepted invitations in facebook and twitter and move from our visualize world to the reality to the streets. we started to go streets in all towns and took photographs and videos for killed people and to show how they were killed uploading them and all sharing them and watching other videos from other towns to be powered more and more. After days the regime stop internet services in the country ....but too late all people are in the streets and the event invitation is in the "Hapening now" status too late Mubarak !.
    Jan 25 Revolution that started with a simple "Click" in the internet and this simple click was the reason for 85 million person got their dreams back that have been stolen for 30 years.and we are planing now by same simple click how to build our country.
    it is too lone story i tried to show it with my poor English .
    • thumb
      Mar 7 2011: Hey Mahmoud. You mentioned things took a dramatic turn on 25 Jan when large amount of people overcame their fear and came together.

      I'm wondering what's caused the mental shift for the majority of people? Since I deeply understand your previous concern that things would never work out. I still feel the same about the Chinese government. Curious how did the mental shift come about.
      • thumb
        Mar 7 2011: That is an intriguing thought, look how quickly things have changed in the world in the last month. When a group of people with a common thought or goal which is focused act as one it is as though they have created a movement which is unstoppable. The internet is an amazing vehicle for change, weather or not it is a right? I believe it is a necessity for the greater good, how we get such a powerful too into the hands of those who most need it is the challenge.
      • thumb
        Mar 8 2011: There a lot of Egyptians youth that are active in social networks.When the event started it has been shared in many types as an event, photos , videos ,pages and groups all of them with the same idea 25 jan we must all of us be in the day jan 25 who in streets were internet youth and some political parts. The voices that asked to join that event was so loud in internet and alert to people that they must ask for better life.that was only the beginning and in 28 jan Friday was the real change because all people after pray in mosques went to streets ,christians too did the same.that's the change the fear barrier is destroyed all want better life .in some manner all need to feel that he want to share in developing humanity need to feel that when works he will get an award like better life and some respect
        Internet is the life for a lot of people here when your PC is offline you just feel that it is "died"
        for me with it i can learn using tutorials,talks and attend open courses i can share ideas and contact with experts.i know well that it does not matter where am i now,if i have plans that will make my life better tomorrow.
  • thumb
    Mar 10 2011: The internet, in itself, isn't free. It isn't a right to give away in the first place, as access to it is controlled by private companies. Services we subscribe to are usually provided by private companies. Facebook and Google, to name a couple, are private companies. They essentially have the right, as private companies, to terminate or deny access to certain things that are not in accordance to their mission as a company.

    Our rights in the first place are a result of centuries-long battles on how we essentially want to live, or rather, how we need to live, in order to function as a coherent unit in society. Do we need the internet for this? Not particularly. In the same way that we do not really need cars, TV, or helicopters to function in the most basic sense as a society. The fundamentals lie in respect, understanding, and collaboration. These are what constitutes our basic rights.

    The problem with the internet is that what defines "free speech" varies across different countries, and the internet surely reflects what already exists, or doesn't, in terms of how people communicate. What happens in situations like the Facebook-instigated uprising in Egypt, or even a Facebook ban in China, arises from very specific political action, and what happens online is only symptomatic of the particular situations each country - or city - faces as a whole.

    So the question really is - to what extent does the internet supplement our human rights?
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: By Internet I assume you mean "Internet access." My first question would be why? I don't believe there is a logical answer to why that meets the same criteria as freedom, access to clean water and a home, and other rights we take as basic. More importantly, the last thing I personally want to see is governments becoming responsible for doling out Internet access. Internet access needs to stay in the private sector with government oversight. That is the right level of checks and balances in my opinion.
    • thumb
      Mar 6 2011: I couldn't have said it better. Further to Bill's comment on oversight I believe rules should be stricter to those who abuse the Internet: identity theft, child pornography etc. A fundamental right should be the education on how to use and protect oneself (esp our youth) from the internet. Governments should proactively and better support education of the internet  and it's usage through a social responsibility obligation and school curriculum. We need to protect our youth and educate our people on how to effectively use the www. It's a dangerous and glorious "site" that needs to be understood before used. 
      • thumb
        Mar 6 2011: Ashley, we clearly agree. I hate over-regulation in general, but the Internet is also a new type of problem. We need to vigorously enforce freedom of speech as our US Supreme Court did this week, recognizing that that means protecting the wackos that were protesting at a military funeral. But I worry about making sure our governments have the right technology, tools and judicial powers to police and punish those who would go after our children on the Internet and those who would stalk celebrities and other people in the public eye. The balance needs to be tipped towards absolute freedom of speech and expression but with the right checks and balances to protect our children and those who put themselves in the public eye for purposes of public service or artistic expression.
  • thumb
    Mar 1 2011: Maybe the issue isn't internet access itself as a fundamental right, but rather what having access to it entails. In the recent Middle Eastern revolutions, internet has been utilized as a mechanism of freedom to organize and transparency. Freedom to organize and freedom of speech are fundamental rights. As the internet monopolizes this right more and more as time passes, access to the internet will become essential to protecting the rights of people throughout the world.
  • thumb
    Feb 28 2011: This is a very valid question. Especially after seeing what role the internet plays in the Middle East/Maghreb right now. It should be expanded though. The right to free speech should encompass the right to communicate, not limiting this right to a single technology though. In some instances texting, telephones or mere assembly are the forms of communication which constitute freedom. Other forms of communication might be developed soon or in the future. So, yes, the human right to free speech has to be updated in the age of digital communication, just like many forms of legislation have to be updated (copyright, secrecy/transparency, the jurisdiction of law enforcement in new forms of communication).
  • thumb
    Mar 9 2011: Preventing one population from accessing the internet should definitely be stated as a sign of civil war.
    Just like blocking planes and phone communications was stated as a sign of war.

    But then, from the individual point of view, I wouldn't say it is fundamental for anybody to have an access to the internet. If I someday choose to cut my networks and live a simple life, I don't want anybody to say "Hey, he's not enjoying the human rights..." or something. I probably wouldn't care about gossiping anymore, but well...

    It's something everyone should chose.
    Being able to chose is good.
    Not being able because of financial/connexion/ethic matters, isn't that bad.
    Not being able to chose because of political matters is fundamentally wrong.

    Great topic to think about!
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: When in doubt, apply the Golden Rule. Ask yourself..."Self...if I didn't have internet access, how would I feel." Ask folks in countries who are being bullied and controlled in their internet access, "would you like more freedom in your internet access?". You will quickly see that the LARGE majority of humans want unfettered internet access. Case closed. The next question is who is going to pay for it? The answer, we all should. Then, the next questions is, who should govern it? The answer is we all should govern via peer review and input. Support "Free space technology" for the internet and we won't be having this discussion. Google: "Free Space Technology Robert Haussmann". Self governing is key!
  • thumb
    Mar 5 2011: information is a fundamental right.
  • Mar 2 2011: Communication is a fundamental right, the internet is just another tool for communication.
  • thumb
    Feb 28 2011: The answers to this will depend on whether you mean access to the internet should be a positive or a negative right.

    If you intend this as a positive right, it would require action on somebody else's part. It would require somebody else to provide you with bandwidth and equipment. If you were poor, somebody would be obliged to pay your way; if you were uneducated, somebody else would be required to teach you. As a positive right, it would require others to take action to provide you with the internet. I don't think internet access is a fundamental right in this sense.

    As a negative right I think it fits within a larger context that we should be allowed to read, speak, learn, and enjoy whatever information is available. I think it is a fundamental right that we should be free to communicate and form associations without interference so long as we are not imposing on somebody else's rights when we do it. As a negative right, it requires inaction from others—our rights are maintained when we are left alone. But this is not specific to the internet—it's broader than that. Since the internet is just a tool for for communication, it seems that when somebody interferes and prohibits access to these tools they are trampling your fundamental rights to express yourself.
  • thumb
    Feb 28 2011: I say yes, the Internet should be a fundamental right, as it is very closely associated with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especifically the Article 27:

    * (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    * (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

    Best regards
  • thumb
    Feb 28 2011: While currently internet may not be a fundamental right, I believe that in the coming years it will become one. Just as today we see right to literacy and education as fundamental, soon internet accessibility will become synonymous with this definition. For these reasons the one laptop per child program and similar organizations are so important. However, we must remember that internet accessibility carries great risk. As a relatively new tool, we have not yet learned its full capacity to both help and harm and must remain wary of this in furthering the development of the world.
  • thumb
    Feb 28 2011: I disagree. There are some parts of the world where people are being denied the right to free speech, and those people should have the fundamental right to assemble on the internet. But the internet changes the way that people think fundamentally. If you don't believe me, try and take a significant time away from the internet and watch how your mind readjusts.

    The internet brings with it every single problem that western society has. Wolf in sheeps clothing and so on.
  • thumb
    Feb 26 2011: There are no such things as Rights. If we understood this the world would be a better place.
    • Feb 28 2011: Thank for your comment. Do you really thing that our society could live without rights? Don't you think that without rights, people with less power will take their own rights?
    • thumb
      Mar 4 2011: Hello Lee, Please help me to understand your answer above.
      • thumb
        Mar 7 2011: Please don't misunderstand I am not some godless beast but I think it goes like this. If we rights then be definition it means that some one has to give us those rights. So if we have the right to a job, a good education, food, a roof over our head etc, and if two people are born at the same time, which one has the right and which is born with the responsibility to give it to the other. In truth there are no such thing as rights. We say we have the right to a job, so we go to the job centre and register, do we really then believe that the person who takes all that information will then take our file home and keep looking for a job for us in their spare time until they have found one for us? I believe that society will prosper when we have the understanding that in order to move forward we need to be accommodating and considerate to each others needs, that does not equate to rights that equate to cooperation without cooperation very little gets done. So do I believe that the internet is a fundamental right? Absolutely not. Do I believe that in cooperation with each other in order to make sure that we can all share in the technology of the internet will create a better society? Absolutely! The thing about rights is, If I have the right to eat, do you have the responsibility to supply me with food? I think the US Constitution is close, it says, 'One has the right to PURSUE happiness' it does not say 'One has the RIGHT to happiness'
        • thumb
          Mar 7 2011: You are describing what is normally called positive rights, rights that require the action of others to fulfill them. And your explanation is a fine outline of the problem of positive rights.

          Often when people speak of rights, they are speaking of negative rights. My right to practice a religion, for instance, does not burden you with responsibility. It only requires that you don't interfere. The same is true for my right to express myself and choose my own course in life. These are the kind of rights outlined in the Bill of Rights.

          The original question about the internet is interesting because it can be read both ways. You can make a strong argument that I don't have the positive right to internet access in the sense that someone must provide it. But assuming I can secure bandwidth and equipment, should I have the right to free and unencumbered access to whatever information I want so long as I'm not imposing on other's rights? That's a slightly more difficult question.
        • thumb
          Mar 7 2011: Mark, that is well argued.
        • thumb
          Mar 8 2011: Mark, I think the same.
          Besides, I don't see internet as a fundamental right, but it is different when we talk about freedom of expression and access to information. However, nobody should has the rights to prevent you from accessing it - for me this would be crime since it is against your rights.

          Internet has been playing a role of the most important way to communicate and access information. Furthermore, it works as a powerful tool to generate opportunities. Through it you build social networks, you can learn about almost everything, you improve your possibilities of having success in your professional life - whether it is your goal - and even start building a family. Therefore I see that internet soon will become as important as the superior education is nowadays. There is a big difference of average salaries - it doesn't mean quality of life, but it can be strongly related to - of people who attend a superior course and people who don't because of the opportunities and preparation that the superior education offers. The same will be with internet: the "lack" of internet access will work as a limitation for people under this condition.
          I don't know yet how to provide internet access to everyone in the world, but I believe that it would be very important to make the world better and I looking for solutions.
        • Mar 10 2011: Thank you, Lee, I think, too, that there is no such thing as Rights. We don't even have the Right for food. We are simply lucky if we live in a surrounding where people are considerate of everyones needs (I like the way you put it), and where the material situation is such that food and other necessities can be provided.
        • thumb
          Mar 10 2011: Lee. You are right AND wrong. We need cooperation. At this point in history I think we still need to talk about rights. Because there is not enough cooperation. And I am not willing to let go of the rights I have according to Swedish and international law in such a hostile world. My ancestors worked hard to get me these rights and in honor of them I will defend them.
          Democracy, civil rights and other rights are the slow and clumsy tools for cooperation we have. We can start using other tools as well, while keeping them because they are still doing their job.
          I would love Internet to be a shared property for all mankind. How it could happen I do not know. Let us just pool all our energy and thoughts together. Be realistic, plan for a miracle.
    • Mar 5 2011: I'm not sure I agree with you. Yes "Rights" are a fiction, it's an abstract idea, it's nothing real that you can touch.
      But when the idea is accepted and practiced by everyone it becomes real. It's like money, one could say that money have no real value, it's just a piece of paper (or now a days code mostly). But since I can use money in practice to buy things, it has a "real" value. (Since the store also values money)
      Rights is just an idea but it's a good idea! Without it we would still be little more than slaves to the nobles and the king. Theft is argued wrong on a basis that we all have a natural right to property. Without that right society wouldn't function. Actually I think that most, almost all, of our notions of "wrong" are somewhat based around the idea of rights. Even the idea that "wrong" is wrong can be connected to rights. "Do you want rights? then respect the rights of others"
      I can not see how thinking "there are no such things as rights" could make a better society.

      But maybe I just assumed that you meant the same thing that I would have meant if I said that there are no such things as rights. So please explain.
  • thumb
    Mar 10 2011: Right? I do not know, see my reply to Lee. But:
    I would love Internet to be a shared property for all mankind. How it could happen I do not know. Let us just pool all our energy and thoughts together. Be realistic, plan for a miracle!
  • Mar 10 2011: The question is ending. I would like to thank each and everyone for sharing your ideas. Thank you!
    Hope you will help me for my next question.
  • Mar 8 2011: Nope--fundamental rights exist intrinsically within an individual, not provided extrinsically by others. The Internet is related closely to our fundamental right to express ourselves, but it in and of itself is not a right.
  • thumb
    Mar 8 2011: It would be possibly the most efficient and cheapest way of securing some of the rights from the Universal Declaration of Human rights for most people. There exists an initiative already:
    • Mar 9 2011: thank you for sharing this link. Very interesting initiative! Just tweeted it
  • thumb
    Mar 7 2011: I think that you can state that internet access is a fundamental right only if you accept that Internet is NOT a media. In fact you cannot state that mass media such as TV or Radio are fundamental rights, can you? But the potential to get informed and keep in touch with people is really a fundamental right. It is similar to pursuit of happiness, which is a fundamental right of every human being.

    I see the Internet as the easiest way to access information and connect with others. It is the main access to a world of possibilities. That's why I think IT IS a fundamental right.
  • thumb
    Mar 7 2011: Personally, I think that rights were invented at some time. I mean, some places in the world have more than others so that would mean that some people are "more free" than others ? Non. People invented rights. They are Man Made.

    It is more easy for someone to fight for something that have the label "Fundamental Right" on it, but that does not make the fact that someone would have to fight to get that "Right" legit. No "right" is fundamental. The proof is that most people have to fight for rights. If they were fundamental, they would have been granted with birth.

    In other words, there is NO (good) reason that anybody on the surface of the earth could not benefit of our great accomplishments. With the awesome progress of technology, we are getting closer and closer to accept the fact that it is not only POSSIBLE to eliminate inequalities, but that it would be EASY too.

    To answer directly to the question, I would say that Yes, but only because it would be "Less Worst" than No.

    Sorry if I have made mistake in my English, I speak french most of the time.
  • thumb
    Mar 7 2011: Mark, I think you may have landed it. I started a thread under questions, maybe it can be explored by the wider TED community.
  • thumb
    Mar 6 2011: In an ideal world, the internet is a fundamental right, but I see a couple potential problems in initializing such an action. The internet is not free to access or maintain which changes its nature in my mind. Though in an ideal world it would be perfect if everyone had internet access that was unfiltered or not under surveillance, but it is hard because those who have power and know that they have it wrongly, would be at risk of loosing it. You also have people who would abuse it in a variety of ways, the black market, and potential child pornography. So it becomes a challenge in deciding whether or not it is something that needs to be earned or freely given. Not all companies have the ability to publish information but some do and some of those publish improper information, which in turn is only damaging so how do you decide who has the right to publish and not publish?
    I would support all people having access to the internet and its wealth of information and tools, but I cant help but think there should be a sort of mild monitoring feature, when I think about the fact that we house so many prisoners across the world, in order to keep our physical environment more safe, wouldn't it in a way make sense to do the same in a mental world like the internet? I know I'm suggesting that we set boundaries on the internet which I have never been too fond of, but in the world of investing there is what is called a gentlemen's agreement, which is non-legally binding agreement that both parties are expected to honour.
    It becomes problem when one party defaults on that agreement. I see that as no different than someone spreading hate etc. So should the internet be a fundamental right? I say, follow the rule of innocent until proven guilty, but the guilty deserve a sentence.
  • Mar 6 2011: Freedom to meet, assemble. interact & communicate to the others in your environment, before becoming your fundamental right, has been a condition, requirement of becoming a human being. Brave & intelligent Maugli was not developed as a human since he was limited to collaborate & interact to fauna members only. That is, interaction is first a neurological & psychological requirement, and 2nd - an ethical/political/legislative value.
    Humans go on developing after they have already become human beings, and Internet is a medium for interactions in both close vicinity and in global. It is good to be global, but it is not psychologically essential. Anyway, Internet is a useful tool even for all those who are not apt to be global. Internet might radically change, might lose its name, but the vehicle for interaction & collaboration will be urgently needed in every ongoing generation.
    To sum up, a tool to do local & global interactions is 1st a condition and 2nd (3rd, 4th, etc.) a medium.
  • Mar 6 2011: No. Agree with Anthony. Internet is just a tool like a phone or other devise. No need to idolize it and put that in the same category as our fundamental right to marry, reproduce, etc.
  • thumb
    Mar 5 2011: The right to use the internet is no different then that of using a library or store.
  • Mar 5 2011: When asking if the internet should be a fundamental right your putting the power of that decision in the hands of governments and mega corporations. The internet is an international and globally distributed tool for communication and information commerce. As members of that community we need to take ownership in the demand for the development of technology which makes the internet more pervasive and inherently able to thwarting the ability of local governments or individual corporations and organization from being able to filter or limit access (addressing both: Net Neutrality and political blackouts) to the internet. I think what Lee Wilkinson said has merit we as individuals and communities need to take ownership of our own ability to use the internet, and not rely on the will of a government or corporation to provide us that as a “fundamental right”.
  • thumb
    Mar 4 2011: I believe that the internet should be available to anyone that wants it. Without going into the whole "free speach" debate i dont see how a government can justify manipulating or restricting the content made available. The internet allows people to interact with others around the world, opening their minds and promotes ideas and innovation to be developed and spread. However, I do think that it can do more harm than good in some cases. Take wikileaks for example, some say it is good, but if in the long run it incites violence then in my opinion that is dangerous.
  • Mar 3 2011: Information should be a fundamental right of all human beings. The internet is how we are currently disseminating our information. Before computers and the internet there were books. This medium of information exchange was limited to the upper classes in previous times. The invention of the printing press casued an explosion of literacy and spurred an immense exchange of knowledge. The internet is the next form of this sharing of information. Massive volumes of information that would have required libraries to house can be easily stored on PCs, laptops, knidles and even phones. Whether or not the internet should be a right is irrelevant. People will DEMAND information and by extension the internet, until another medium has been developed.
  • thumb
    Mar 3 2011: Yes. Freedom to access the largest compendium of human knowledge on the face of the Earth? Is that even a question? The internet is the first truly global society, it improves with every member. Every Troll, White Knight, Noob, and Goon adds to the richness and fullness of this electronic social landscape. It can facilitate a step forward in our evolution as a species. We are in essence a super-organism, the internet is an opportunity for humanity to recognize that and consciously act as one. Far-reaching vision, perhaps, but there it is.
  • thumb
    Mar 2 2011: I think that if we are far sighted and interested in promoting humanity's best, Internet should be a basic right. It has the potential to mimic a human neural net and cough up solutions for most of the world's problems by allowing people of good will to use their insight and reasoning power to help others. It has the potential to allow those with good will to overcome those who currently have control of the steering column of the planet who are motivated by greed.
  • thumb
    Mar 2 2011: INTERNET isn' a right, it is a very useful tool to obtain many important rights!
    The Internet access is an index of development, and, as Amartya Sen says, development is freedom.
  • Mar 2 2011: No it is not a fundamental "right". It is a commodity that costs money and labor. If you reside in a country that does not permit the internet you must define and then implement the political and economic conditions that will result in your access to it.
  • Mar 1 2011: Fundamental rights are not given, they are present intrinsically within one's self. So to "do" what you say would require the establishment of a positive right, which is not a good idea.

    However, the right to free speech and free association, which are intrinsic and already recognized, support the use of the internet, if it exists, to communicate and assemble freely. The problem is that the components of the Internet are not publicly owned. What is needed is an ad-hoc, peer to peer "internet" protocol that can connect freely and allow itself to be used to freely communicate. In this way, no special powers or privileges need be created in order to exorcize a right that already exists.
  • Feb 28 2011: A fundamental right? No.

    If our ancestors lived happily for thousands of years without internet access, I don't think all of the world should be instantly linked up to it. Sure, the internet is wonderful in its way: so is art. Is art a fundamental right? No.
  • Feb 26 2011: The only fundamental right is the right to develop, to change. From that we have derived the four basic rights of freedom of thought, speech, movement and association. You only need these rights if you want freedom to change. Moderns consider them fundamental because they see them in a static rather than a dynamic model. In the dynamic model, the only fundamental right is that to develop or change. From these four rights, we derive our civil and political rights. The internet will become a civil right.
    • Feb 28 2011: If internet become a civil right, how do you think it should be codified?
  • thumb
    Feb 26 2011: Sure. But I think there are some more basic rights we need to work on first, don't you?
    • Feb 28 2011: We sure have to work on more basic rights for the moment. But don't you think that many on this rights could be reached but the use of the internet?