TED Conversations

Simon Tam

Founder and Bassist, The Slants LLC

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Is Internet Access a Right or a Priveledge?

In recent conversations regarding SOPA and PIPA, many consumers have voiced their concerns about their "rights." Do you think that the internet (at least in the current state) is a right, or is it more akin to what DMV argues about driving, a priveledge?

Some argue that access to the information is an inherent right. However, to use a computer or check out books at a library, one is still required to fill out an application and get an ID (and have rights/responsibilities). Other than paying for internet access, we don't seem to have many restrictions, and the legal ones in place or limited at best.

Should free speech rules apply? Is access to that information a right?

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    Jan 24 2012: Fair enough. It's a good thing to think about . Information and Knowledge is key to success. In such a way that most people still don't understand and appreciate.
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      Jan 24 2012: What I find fascinating is that the economic rate of growth and even technological advancements being produced in China, where the state controls information, the media, and access to that information quite rigorously.

      I definitely agree that most people don't understand the scope of the internet (can any of us really?) or the importance of acquiring information. Is the fact that it is there and online something that we are taking for granted? More questions.... :)
    • Jan 29 2012: Specially the use given to information
  • Jan 24 2012: I think that an access to the Internet is becoming a right, typically in developed nations where the Internet starts to be a major gateway to profit and non-profit services and communication. However one has no right to own a computer as long as public access to the Internet exists.

    We see that the Internet is increasingly used by governments, communities and people to communicate and provide services. I do not think I can enter a public office and ask them to print out all the data they have about traffic given the same data is now available on the government's web site. Similarly many basic services in developed nations are becoming available only online.
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      Jan 24 2012: The idea of the rights being developed is an interesting one.

      While more things are gravitating to online storage, cloud systems and a "digital" society, there's still a severe disparity in access to that information (even in the United States). For example, the newest studies stll show that over one third of the U.S population isn't online (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm)

      The response to this question would probably also be much different in developing nations (for example, India might have 100 million users, but that's still only 8.4% of the country) as well as those who haven't experienced such freedoms in expression or the press (such as China).
      • Jan 25 2012: I think some people do not need or want to have daily access to the Internet and as long as they have public access in their local libraries it should not matter how do they access it?

        Yes I agree in developing nations online access is more of luxury at this point (thou in Middle East it seems to be major driving force behind the revolution and unofficial communication).
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          Jan 25 2012: While I'm not sure about how it is at large in terms of desire to have access, the communities that I've worked with in third world countries expressed a desire for it but it was lower on the priorities list compared to basic needs (clean water, shelter, food, etc.). Most of their information was from newspapers, community groups (such as schools or churches, etc.). However, a substantial number of people had smart phones (probably why Twitter is so huge in developing nations) and the rates for cell phone users in developing nations often outnumber those in developed countries (most of that is due to the lack of physical infrastructure such as phone lines and paved roads).
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        Jan 26 2012: There is a strange Semantics thing here you see, what we call rights are mostly collectively demanded privileges. The few rights we have are the hidden biological reality. ! at birth you have the right to die.2 the right to do whatever you desire to the limit of your strength. and intelligence and ruthlessness, its the strength and ruthlessness clause that we barter away as individuals to buy collective enforcement of privileges as rights.So really the rights that a society demands should steady evolve.
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    Jan 29 2012: well there are options, internet and intranet for example. There could be access to everything via the internet and only posting to accredited people on the other which would also allow for fact checking and a elogo that stated all facts listed in the site have been verified. But I think that it would be a world changing event if even for one year ther was free internet access and free cellphone calls from anywhere to anywhere. The potential for explosions of cultural scientific political and human endeavors including the creation of some as yet undreamed of would be huge. I am sad to see the step backwards taken by Twitter with its country by country censorship decision. Perhaps a network of servers and ISPs could be independently developed?I have enjoyed this thread and thank you for creating it perhaps it could be repeated on a semi regular basis to keep the issue alive.
  • Jan 29 2012: There are different kinds of rights, but from my point of view, it can easily be extended as the right to communicate. At the same time, there are several uses we can give to the web, but those given without money-making aims should never be forbidden, such as TEDs. It looks weird to see that some guy will spend the rest of his life in prison (im not saying he was actually kind) while other well-known crimes rest unpunished being the perjuice much worse. Also, as you say we have to assume responsabilities altogether with rights and thats something we tend to forget, conscius or unconciously. I think Internet has to remain as the cornestone of new generations and open societies and cultures. It makes all people around the globe richer. Richer and more equal. Where are societies focusing their attentionand why? Thats my question.
  • Jan 29 2012: If we fast forward to the 'end game' of internet usage... connected virtual worlds and environments - upon which much human society and culture will build upon as the substrate - just as we build upon language and law and order and a host of other things as a substrate.

    The inability to access these experiences, the human culture and interaction that will be apparent... would be a grave detriment to us. It's funny to think of ourselves at a poverty of such a thing - such an amazing world and experience... but if you were to remove our running water, our electricity and our plumbing now - things that we have not always had as part of our 'human experience', we would recoil in devastation. Not only would such a thing be gravely inconvenient to the individual - but it would essentially destroy our ability to operate our society as we are.

    Access to the internet of now grants us access to an amazing world and experience, upon which we build great and wondrous things - it is a fundamental substrate to a new world, and its removal or restriction of use would lessen us as a species.
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    Jan 25 2012: Yes... It is a priveledge... It should be a right.

    No government in human history, has ever believed in anything, but restricting access of information. So, as horrible as this sounds, I almost suggest that we should show our governments some compassion here. All classical forms of governance, would have used the internet solely for their military, America chose to try and give access to everyone... This is a new and beautiful development in human history... Those are slow processes. Calling it a right too early, may get us into some trouble.

    Also, I would say that the internet is actually something that would have fit well under FDR's "Workers Bill of Rights". Do people who contribute absolutely nothing to society deserve free music, movies, and porn? I'm not sure. I'm certain, that people who work 8 hours a day at a job they hate deserve those things. If you're unemployed, maybe access to unlimited free entertainment and sexual fantasies, holds you back.
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    Jan 24 2012: If I use the Internet in such a way that I am not interfering with another person's life, liberty or pursuit of happiness I am properly exercising a right.
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    Jan 24 2012: I don't think either applies. Especially in developed countries. The case that you made about a library requesting a process in order to check out books or computers exists only to insure order and protection of the goods being lent. Anyone can walk into a Library and read anything they want as long as they want on site.

    The internet, as it exists currently is a beautiful tool, but it's also easily abused. If I think about how rude, people become or how individuals can use the internet as a tool to prey on others it's hard to think of it as a privilege.
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      Jan 24 2012: I can see your argument there; the library was the closest thing I could compare it to (since the argument is generally over a "right" for access to information. Perhaps a private or research library would have been a better example (one where explicit approval is needed prior to even entering, such as at the University of Oxford).

      I agree - the internet, like any tool, is something that could be used for good or for evil. I'm just wondering how people thought about it has a basic right - and in the larger picture, information - and if it is something that all people are entitled to.
  • Jan 24 2012: Neither. It is a simple tool more people need to have access to. It is a tool, not a right, there is nothing inherently human about it, and not just a privilege. Yes, people have a right to good information. I wish it was as simple as giving them the internet.
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      Jan 24 2012: It used to be as simple as a library card. I think the internet has become a blessing and a curse, a way to make us more efficient yet a huge time-suck as well. One of those things, I suppose...
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    Jan 24 2012: I feel that access to the internet should be a right that comes with possession of a web capable device. Premium service access could be sold but a basic even if slow connection is in our new age as vital form of free speech
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      Jan 24 2012: Technology is certainly changing our definition and views on age-old laws. Even this week, The Supreme Court (narrowly) ruled on GPS tracking of vehicles without a warrant.

      Although I have to wonder on a deeper level on your argument: does the mere act of possesing a web capable demand a right to access for the information? What if that information is filtered (such as in China and in otehr countries)? Or if is limited (such as private sites, etc.)?
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    Jan 24 2012: I personally believe there are no natural rights.
    There are no rights in nature.
    All our supposed rights are things we have fought for, or agreed on, or been forced towards by leaders.
    Perhaps enshrined in laws.
    Religious freedom.
    Equality.
    The pursuit of happiness
    Trial
    Who you marry
    Freedom of speech.
    To vote etc.
    The so called rights people have depend on time and place. Not even the short list above is shared today across the globe.
    These are human constructs and ideas. I prefer to have them than not.
    Will all these right come responsibility
    Framing internet freedom as a right is just framing the argument to suit a position.
    I don't personally want to see the internet tightened up and restricted excessively.
    However, we need to adapt - should bloggers be able to criticise and slander someone with no evidence. Should the standards applied to newspapers apply or some middle ground.
    Should people have access to child sex sites. Suggest whatever is legal and illegal should apply. Then just argue about what is censored as per movies and books.

    Practically the internet is impossible to control. Although individuals may be prosecuted many more will
    No pseudo right is absolute - they need to be balanced against others.

    Even with free speech, common sense applies. What you say may have consequences reasonably predictible - others less so if they go viral.

    As for illegal downloading....well you talk about access to information but avoid the elephant in the room. What are your views on downloading?
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      Jan 24 2012: Interesting, I haven't heard the point of view for "rights" as a social construct before (only heard about the ideas of race and gender, since biology doesn't support those ideas eitehr).

      As for illegal downloading, I think that artists should be able to protect their own work and property. But in terms of other types of information, I think there should be more transperancy - I suppose, like many things, it's a grey area and depends on the situation.
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      Jan 29 2012: right to die