A new study has found that people unable to get online – particularly in developing countries – lack meaningful ways to influence the global players shaping their everyday lives.
The research reveals that the internet could be a key way of protecting other basic human rights, such as life, liberty, and freedom from torture, and a means of enabling billions of people to lead ‘minimally decent lives’.
Dr. Merten Reglitz, lecturer in global ethics at the University of Birmingham, has published his findings – the first study of its kind – in the Journal of Applied Philosophy and insists that free internet access must be considered as a human right.
Reglitz believes that as political engagement increasingly takes place online, basic freedoms that many take for granted – including free expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly – are undermined if some citizens have access to the internet and others do not.
“Internet access is no luxury, but instead a moral human right and everyone should have unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium – provided free of charge for those unable to afford it,” he explained.
“Without such access, many people lack a meaningful way to influence and hold accountable supranational rule-makers and institutions. These individuals simply don’t have a say in the making of the rules they must obey and which shape their life chances.”
He added that exercising free speech and obtaining information was now heavily dependent on having internet access. Much of today’s political debate took place online and politically relevant information is shared on the internet – meaning the relative value these freedoms held for people ‘offline’ had decreased.
“Universal internet access need not cost the earth – accessing politically important opportunities such as blogging, obtaining information, joining virtual groups, or sending and receiving emails does not require the latest information technology,” commented Reglitz.
“Web-capable phones allow people to access these services and public internet provision, such as public libraries, can help get people online where individual domestic access is initially too expensive.”
He added that the human right to internet access was similar to the global right to health, which cannot require globally the highest possible medical treatment, as many states are too poor to provide such services and thus would face impossible demands.
Instead, poor states are called upon to provide basic medical services and work toward providing higher quality health care delivery. Similarly, such states should initially offer locations with public internet access and develop IT infrastructure that increases access.
According to The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, ‘affordability’ remains one of the most significant, but solvable, obstacles to universal access.
For the Foundation, internet access is affordable if one gigabyte of data costs no more than two percent of average monthly income – currently some 2.3 billion people are without affordable internet access.
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