Vint Cerf is warning that people who insist that the internet is some sort of human or civil right are missing the point. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Cerf – regarded by many as one of the fathers of the internet for his role in creating TCP/IP – explained that technology isn’t a human right in itself, but merely an …
He's a sensible sort of chap...
The thought of 'internet access' as a human right is ridiculous - indeed, 'human rights' per se are a highly debatable subject.
In all cases, so-called human rights are merely what a political power group allow, or pressurise to want to allow. No more, no less - human rights are an illusion and always will be.
"Human rights are an illusion"
I suppose that the blood that was spilled fighting for those illusions are also an illusion?
Ennobling the title, the post, or the person?
No, no, not at all. The blood is what makes people's lives "meaningful".
<troll>Thus "Human Rights" are an attempt at making people's lives /less/ meaningful.</>
I would like to stress that especially that list of "Universal Human Rights" is entirely the product of human (bureaucrat's and politician's, to boot) imagination. They're only universal because this organisation called the "United Nations" declared them to be thus. It could, in theory, declare something else to have that title tomorrow. Yet people invented the notion, presumably to have a stick to goad governments into being nicer to their people with. Intentions most of us will readily agree with, but let's not believe our own bullshit too much, shall we?
Even if it is entirely honourable bullshit. That does not a law of nature make. It remains a figment of our collective imagination. We stick with it because we believe it to be a good idea. That really is all there is to it. Let's not forget that, please.
Oh please... Dont give us the old died for human rights or died for a flag rubbish... nobody dies for human rights or flags they die at best protecting freedoms which is not the same. Rights, do not exist other then the weak and temporary ones goverments allow you to imagine you have. Too many rights not enough being left alone to get on with our lives.
@chris211 - I agree
A proper legal system for a free country should never enshrine rights in law as this is setting definitions on what a person can do. A free legal system should state what you can't do, not what you can - that road leads to authoritarianism. It also fosters a culture of entitlement, where people think the world owes them certain things without the concepts of responsibility and earning those things.
UK law used to work on this concept, but a combination of a legal industry hellbent on making money combined with misguided 'useful idiot' do-gooders have turned it on its head.
So, we accept that all this "human right" stuff is something that we (as humans, with a view on the matter) have made up. Well, fuck me, the truth of the matter is that we made everything up, sometimes in great and florid detail. That said, surely it is not too intellectually taxing to tell the difference between "If we deny you this, then we are bad people who are oppressing you" and "Here's good shit, wade in and fill yer boots (for a small consideration)".
Mr. Cerf is quite right as far as it goes, assuming that everything else is equal. I think that to conflate his statement as a reasonable point with the undeniable trend towards some other bastards limiting decent public services to those who do have internet access is to miss the (strict) point he was making. The blame here lies elsewhere. And that is where you should aim it.
"It also fosters a culture of entitlement, where people think the world owes them certain things without the concepts of responsibility and earning those things." You are correct, but only with regard to the very bad 20th Century development. Going as far back as Kant, the concept of a right always came as a corollary of having an obligation. The utter stupidity of the various declarations of rights is that they completely did away the necessary "responsibility" aspect. It has also allowed silliness like concepts of rights for children and animals (no obligation, no rights).*
Rights are always a two-way thing, and the current conception makes an utter mockery of the whole idea.
*This doesn't mean that an obligation cannot be put on others to treat them properly, but they cannot, by definition, have "rights".
Maybe we should do something about that.
Thus the lament that "rights" (in the context of computer access mechanisms) should've been called "privileges" or "responsibilities" or something. Then again, and noting that I'm not versed in philosophy, the unwashed masses tend to take a term and run with it. QV "theory" meaning "hypothesis" leaving "theory" as "body of knowledge" a bit out of sorts and also leaving a nice opening for semantic abuse from religious nutjobs to confuse the masses. Or even "hackers" as "probably evil people having something or other to do with computers or something, like", or, well, probably plenty more. That, too, is a side effect of mass-communication. (I blame you, free market propaganda complex.)
There's also the "vote yourself money" angle, which is one reason why taxes very rarely go down but do tend to sprout exemptions at every opportunity. Could we have that better-educated voter, please, and expect him to vote in a better educated representative? Or is that once or twice too much to ask?
"A proper legal system for a free country should never enshrine rights in law as this is setting definitions on what a person can do"
And why is that such a bad thing?
Rights are not defined by laws, they are usually defined in a construction which is just an aspiration to those rights.
It is also important to establish what rights people have, otherwise you could have the situation where every time the UK elected a labour government they sacked all civil servants who were members of the conservative party and vice versa (e.g. Doretha Vogt who was sacked from her teachers job because she was a member of German Communist Party).
However Vogt was able to take a case under article 11 of the European convention on human rights which protects the right to freedom of assembly and association.
Cerf has it right; the internet is no more a human right than a road or telephone, but that does not take into consideration what society uses the internet for. Increasingly more and more services are accessed online, for example in the last year I have paid service charges, toll bridge charges and I have completed tax returns online. I have also organised a birthday party using online facilities, booking the venue, arranging transport & buying presents. All but 8 of 90+ guests were contacted by email.
The internet has become in integral part of out lives so I think Cerf is wrong in this respect, but just think of it this way, could modern society operate without telephones or roads?
"You keep saying this word, but I do not think it means what you think it means"
'Rights' can mean a lot of different things depending on context of course. In my view, it is something that you, personally, have drawn a line in the sand and have said 'thus far, and no more'. You might not win against whatever it is you are fighting for, but you are fighting for a right to do so. You stand a better chance if more people are on your side of the line, or more committed people anyway.
Some people argue that there is only the right to life (given by God etc.) which kind of leaves me wondering about the right to die that Mr Pratchett is championing at present. I think it should be made clearer that he is fighting for the right to die 'with dignity' and not in vomit fuelled pain and suffering. After all, we all have the right to die - it's the only thing that is completely certain (unless you are some kind of immortal of course - but I don't know of any off hand to reference).
I fight for my right to on-line personal privacy for example, and I en-noble myself because no-one else in their right mind would ever consider doing so for nano-second.
Meanwhile in Finland
Come on Vince, get with it. Not every society is a inward looking as the USofA.
Get with what? As always, Vint's logic is impeccable. Freedom of speech is a right (or should be). This applies to cave drawings, large character posters, Twitter, and everything in between. Ditto freedom of information. The Internet is just another medium through which certain rights can be excercised. The rights matter; the media don't.
(And no, Marshall McLuhan did not state otherwise, if you look carefully at what he wrote.)
Legal Right ≠ Human Right
I think Vint acknowledged that distinction. It's one thing to say "As a citizen of Finland, you are entitled to broadband internet access. We'll make sure telcos provide it." and quite another to say "Every human being needs internet access, for to do without is barbaric."
HOWEVER..... don't dismiss it as a 'right'
how many times have you had to use the internet to get a discount, reduce your bills, search for a job?
The internet is and is becoming more integral in our lives.
If you do not have the internet you reduce your options and in some cases have no option at all.
So I personally think he is mistaken because without it you have less opportunities than other people.
Don't WE ALL have the right to the same opportunities?
"If you do not have the internet you reduce your options and in some cases have no option at all."
If your parents do not have the right connections it also reduces your options and in some cases it means you have no options at all. So should it be also declared a human right?
Fundamental human rights are different -- essentially all negative, declaring that you should be free to mess up your life yourself as you see fit, not messing it up (or terminating in the extreme case) the way others might want to force you.
You could say much the same about owning a car - if I had to give up either my car or Internet access, I know which I would choose - but I don't see anyone claiming a human right to own a car.
Let's sort out clean drinking water and medical facilities for every human on the planet and then we can turn our attention to universal Facebook access.
Should We All Be Equally Worthless?
I don't see having all available options to make my life easier/better as an inalienable human right. I believe myself fortunate to be born into a society where I have many options available to me, but I'm not sure that browsing the Internet instead of want ads is a "right". Is it more convenient and more efficient for me and a prospective employer? Absolutely. Is it something I would lay down the life of me or my family? Nope.
Should engineers and their employers be guardians of human rights? Profit driven ventures are the guardians of shareholder value. If we start confusing share prices with the ability to live, things are going to get confused. Humans are the guardians of Human Rights. If people live in an oppressive regime, the onus is on them to stand up, and often die, in defense of life and liberty.
Oh dear, another leveller
Paging Ms. Diana Moon Glampers: Ms. Glampers, please pick up the blue courtesy phone.
benefit, not a right
Internet access is a benefit paid for either by you, your employer/organization, or maybe government. Similar to a bus pass. Not similar to freedom from oppression, etc.
If the only way to communicate is the Internet...
It is not a human right yet...
It is however on its way to become one by the nature of being the only way (or the only sensible no/low cost way) to do things.
I think some of the people disagreeing with you are saying that we should not have a list of rights as this list is finite and limits our freedom. It's Nepolionic law, everything is illegal unless there is a law saying it's a right.
I prefer a law that says "Do as thou wilt, if it harms none"
Then you just need to list the things that tend to harm people.
The only way
"It is however on its way to become one by the nature of being the only way (or the only sensible no/low cost way) to do things."
Even if the internet did become the only way to communicate, that still wouldn't make it a basic human right. The human right would still be to communicate; the internet would still be simply a medium through which we could exercise the right to communicate (albeit a very important medium).
Driving is illegal...
...until you have a license. The reason for this is the harm that can be done if you don't drive well.
It pretty much is a right since it's not held or the priviledged few.
Do you think that Internet access should be licensed? Ie, made illegal until the government givess you permission?
Should engineers and their employers be guardians of human rights?
If you try and take my rights I will fight you.
@Wayland Sothcott 1
"Do you think that Internet access should be licensed? Ie, made illegal until the government givess you permission?"
Sadly, several plonkers have posted just that sentiment on The Reg forums in the past. Usually as a scornful response to people who don't know how to install Gentoo and pick up a virus by clicking on a link without knowing the consequences. They must be stupid and kept off our Internet, right?
Not so fast Vince! (Or Neil)
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all humans (even Geeks) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Internet Provider with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Twitter, Facebook and the pursuit of Pr0n.
Seriously though, when you consider the "Arab Spring" uprisings and the effect that Internet communication has had on it, you can see that "We, the People of the World" need to have a right to communication similar to our First Amendment (Below) in the US Constitution. In this day and age, speech becomes "communication" and press becomes "media", including the Internet and all it encompasses.
While agree that Neil Barnes is technically correct, his statement indicates the moral failings of government. All the more reason to use our right to overthrow an unjust government, no matter where or who they are.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Better common carrier legislation would solve this
yet it's enough for you to suggest the violent overthrow of the lawfully constituted government of which, judging by your use of language, you've been a citizen all your life?
I remember being that young once. Enjoy it while it lasts, and try not to fuck up your life too badly before your sense of perspective has fully grown in.
Indeed; the 'rights' we enjoy are those which we persuade our government to grant us; the 'rights' which the UN so proudly espouses are similarly those which they would *like* humans as a class to enjoy.
But they're only 'rights' because they're agreed, and because there is redress (in some cases) if the rights are denied either by individuals or states. That redress, though, is by no means guaranteed and seems to be an accident of location of birth, in the main.
While one might wish that, say, the citizens of (insert repressive state here) might be able to say what they wished or to protest against their government or to marry whomsoever they chose or to cohabit with a partner of the same sex or whatever, it is clear that they do *not* enjoy those rights - and further, that only *they* are in the position to demand them.
It is not for me to say 'you have this right' but at most to say 'you can have this opportunity'.
The internet is not a right; like everything else, it's an opportunity - if you can grab it. I happen to think it's a rather fine thing.
I'm 55 white middleclass Jeffersonian/Libertarian fyi and have seen and heard enough bullshit from lying, thieving politicians all my life to know that the only way to get rid of this den of thieves is to chuck them all out.
Sorry, unlike you, I never lost my youthful idealism for a better world that did not trade the lives of it's sons and daughters for War profits; but instead one that worked for prosperity for all humanity.
Funny you chose "lawfully constituted government" as the law is as much at fault for peoples woes as the government is. 20% of the US population is in prison, 80% of those are black and most of them could not "afford" equal legal representation.
"Better Common Carrier Legislation"? What a joke! The entire FCC & FTC are bought and paid for by politics and the dirty money of the Telcos. Nothing good or fair for the public will ever come from them and they can't legislate freedom of speech.
I also did not say that internet access was "right", I said that we should all have a right to communicate via the internet as in a new 21st century interpretation of "Free Speech" as in no censorship, spying, privacy violations, goverment cutoff of communications (Keep that CB and Short Wave Radio folks!) or other intrusion on our ability to freely discuss and communicate with others. That even the poor should be able to use the internet to lear because they are closing all the libraries, social service offices, Motor Vehicle Dept, and other government services and forcing people to go online since there is no brick and mortar presence any longer.
BTW, I did NOT say or suggest "violent overthrow" you did. But hey, whatever works!
The Declaration of Independence says the following, referring to the British but no less applicable today: "But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security"
Try taking a look at the historical documents that are the underlying foundation of the USA. You might learn something.
Do you not think that many or most of these "rights" have already been trampled on in the name of Money and Power? By their acts, have not these bastard politicians violated our once sacrosanct Constitution? Ask the 99% , not the 1%. Is what happened to the Occupy Wallstreet protesters in LA, San Fran, NYC really any different than what happened at Kent State, Boston Massacre, MLK Marches etc?
Now, we already have the preliminary sabre rattling and rumors about "Iranian atomic weapons programs" that will no doubt result in war with Iran (and then the rest of the world) if the Republicans get elected, just so they can pay back their campaign contributors. Contributors who just happen to be the owners of the US war machine. Same shit lie filled story as during the lead up to the Iraq War we just got out of.
I would rather that I and my son's be killed in a new Revolutionary War than die ignominiously in some sand flea infested Middle East country and resulting World War for the sake of US politicians and their cronies.
My sense of perspective is just fine.
@Dan Paul and others
That justfitication you quote about absolute despotism was self-serving propaganda from a group of upper-middle class, slave-owning and rather wealthy men who actually considered themselves more English than those they had left behind. Their terrorism actions drove into exile thousands of "Empire Loyalists", most of whom were working people, small farmers and tradesmen and one of their big gripes was having to pay for troops that they expected to be provided and being restricted from taking over native people's lands after the legal government of the time had made treaties with some of those people.
However, note that even then, the spirit of declaration was often stated as what governments should NOT do.
As others have written, the traditional UK way of, basically, having everything legal unless explicitly forbidden seems, to me, much freer than a written constituiion that defines what I can do and all else is illegal, posing severe problems in the case of handling criminals, the dangerously (to themselves or others) insane and others who retain their humanity but are not "fit" to exercise some "rights". The USA has a real problem with judicial and wartime executions and its right to life, for instance. What the hell does a right to happiness mean, in the modern sense of happiness? How does the IR's draconian ability to enforce the payment of taxes fit? Or a divorce case impoverishing one partner to support the other or children?
As Cerf says, it is an unimaginably foolish idea to imagine that a human technology can be a "right" universally, even if a particular government can declare it to be an entitlement, much as the UK health service for its citizens. As someone above wrote, a write to a car, generalised perhaps to be a write to transport, makes more sense as it enables the use of health services (a right?), shopping, getting to work, visiting family (family life is a "right" in Europe) .... But we can ALL, informatics workers aside, live without the internet and most did so until ten years ago, perhaps even in the West most still do to all intents and purposes.
Hey, Dan Paul
If you're a late-middle-aged libertarian, how come you argue so much like a nineteen-year-old communist?
Hear! hear! - but
So you have the right to exploit, the right to extort, the right to misuse the law to your own advantage ...... I find it worrying that so often discussion of rights seem to revolve around what I, as an individual, can do. A duty to consider and care for others less fortunate than oneself is surely every bit as important a part of the human condition as the rights we seem so happy to claim.
When I was younger, we here in England often saw the USA as a big hearted generous open innovative society if a bit vulgar. Alas no more.
What has that got to do with the Internet? Not a lot - but remember that the development of the Internet protocols (TCP etc.,) was funded by the US government who then, apparently, told Berkeley that they couldn't charge for what they'd developed because the tax payers had already paid for it and they shouldn't have to pay twice. I leave it readers to imagine what would happen today.
@Aaron Em, Apparently, you failed reading comprehension as well as ethics
Definition: Libertarian - A proponent of libertarianism, a political philosophy that upholds individual liberty, especially freedom of expression and action
Definition: Communist - One who believes that by taking property rights away, that they might change society. One who wants change at the expense of individual liberty. Also what people from the South call people they want to insult.
Aaron, sounds to me like you fit the latter definition far more than I do, though I suspect that you are a member of some Fascist organization.
Apparently, you can't understand that the Internet is becoming so pervasive that soon, no one will be able to live without it.
Mark my words, in 5-10 years (or less) there will be no local bank branches, no doorstep mail delivery, all billing will be online for every aspect of life. No Libraries, no bookstores, no newspapers (already happening), no access to any form of information besides through the Internet.
Coming sometime after that will be the Public School system as the cost of transportation, buildings, heating and ventilating and lighting will be too much for them (and us) to bear and all education will take place over the Internet.
In remote parts of the World, this is already happening.
"Work from home" via the Internet will no longer be optional for the same reasons. This too is already happening for many.
Obviously, it is easier to control the population if they are completely ignorant and uneducated, a long time tennent of Fascist and Communist governments. Just ask any North Korean, Iranian, Syrian or Cold War era Russian, that is if they are allowed to speak with you.
There is a similar issue with the control of the Media, where there is no such thing as "Fair and Balanced" reporting. The Internet gives each INDIVIDUAL a way to voice their opinion and hear those of others.
For these reasons, the unfettered access to communication over the internet will eventually have to become a "Right" as it will affect every aspect of our lives.
Cerf is right for the wrong reasons
There isn't any "we the people of the world". Where? You mean you and your friends? There isn't anything called "the community" or "The Internet" -- it's just random collations of people, some of whom have a fierce collectivist ideology, some who don't. The constituency of that "we the people" doesn't have territorial boundaries or an army or a constitutional assembly or a parliament, it's just whoever shows up. So -- no thanks! You are not my "we the people". I didn't vote for you; you don't represent me. Don't think that clapping or waving your hands like OWS or clicking "like" or humming like IETF engineers is a substitute for the VOTE in democracy. It most definitely is not.
We already have the 1st Amendment, and that is sufficient. The problem is that corporations control the highways and their TOS is definitely far below the guarantees of the 1st amendment for all kinds of reasons. So the only reasonable thing here is a liberal democracy with a free market is for some providers to emerge who provide First-Amendment level services and refuse to take down speech unless served with a court order after a successful libel suit.
For "Congress to make no law,' first you need an elected Congress, not Internet people.
Well, sure, the underlying human / civil rights are the really important stuff, but right now and likely moreso in the foreseeable future the Internet will be an essential facilitator of these, so ensuring access as was done with the phone system in the US (and more recently with the Internet in Finland (*)) would seem like a good idea. Also, for the same reason cutting someone off from the Internet for a offense as petty as file sharing for personal purposes is patently disproportional.
(*) Not exactly as a 'human right', merely as a right to have a connection in any part of the country for a not-inflated-as-much-as-to-void-the-provision-in-practice price.
A civil right?
Is beauty a civil right too?
Philosophically are we not all truly beautiful/ugly?
I have to agree that it's silly to consider internet access itself a human right, but I do think that laws or what have you stating that such access, as a powerful, modern enabler of other more truly fundamental rights, should be protected within some attempt at applying sane limits. I do think the UN proclamation did rather miss the point of what is truly a human right, and that's a valid complaint to be sure. That said, I also think there's something sensible in what it was (probably) trying to achieve.
It seems to me that a lot of people here have this whole thing backwards - the whole point of a human right is that it is something that no Government has any moral justification for _removing_ from a citizen.
Life itself is a human right - that does not mean that everyone has the right to live forever, but rather that no Government has any justification for terminating the life of an individual.
On that basis, I entirely agree that Internet access is now a fundamental right - no Government should be able to take it away from an individual for any reason. It does not mean that any individual has a specific right to have internet access.
I think everyone should have the right to purchase available internet access.
I do not think everyone should have the right to free/subsidized internet access.
See the distinction?
And if you live where there is no access, that is your choice. If I lived in a cave in the Himilayas, I wouldn't expect any other soul for me to exercise my freedom of speech with.
Sure I do
but apparently that puts me in the minority; from all the noise on the subject you'd think we were talking about the revival of redlining, rather than ISPs administering their own infrastructure in the way they think will best satisfy their customers and maintain their already razor-thin profit margin.
'And if you live where there is no access, that is your choice.'
I think there'd be a few people on the planet who might disagree with you there. Not that they'll get on these forums to let you know. (And last time I looked they didn't have forums on Naenara.)
I'm not sure that a 'human right' can be cut off-
If you stop paying for it.
Water is an example, as electricity is not; so also internet access. However, 'rights' as a concept are really an artificial construct, with artificial boundaries.
To paraphrase Heinlein;
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, as 'Human Rights' are useless to a man drifting in the middle of an ocean...
As soon as you make it a "Human Right", the problems will start when you start to restrict access to people who shouldn't be allowed anywhere near an internet connection. People in prisons seem to have a large amount of spare time to demand their rights, do we really want convicted sex offenders having access?
...Maybe if they wanted to take an online rehabilitation course? Or email their friends to dissuade them from becoming "sex offenders"... Or what about a different type of criminal, say a dangerous driver who wanted to learn the highway code (online)? Or someone who, instead of wanting to repeat-offend when he/she comes out of prison, would be better of learning a skill (again, using the internet).
It is generally accepted that the punishment of prison is the deprivation of liberty itself (otherwise we'd still be using thumbscrews etc.). I don't expect a Daily Fail reader to understand that however.
Human rights cannot be bought, sold, or traded.
I can happily live without electricity, much less TehIntraWebTubes.
 Yes, I've done it. For three and a half years, or thereabouts.
not a forrm of free speech but just an enabler.
Just as long as that speech props up new world order propaganda right?
nice one Vint
and nice to see his freedom of speech (an /actual/ human right) prevails regardless of his current paymasters (and that reflects well on them, too).
To all the people saying that comfortable existence now requires broadband therefore it becomes a human right (e.g. HMRC filing online etc etc) - you have that wrong: if your state requires you to conform as a citizen by being online then the state is required to provide you with the means to be online. It is a connivance on their part to pretend otherwise.
What should be patently obvious to even the most ardent tech-obsessed navel gazer is that there are greater wrongs to right in this world than the lack of broadband connection to download the latest "naked guy in the Le Redoute advert" mashup that has just gone viral. Thanks for trying to point that out, Vint.
Every human being should have an opportunity to use information society services, ultimate goal "within arm's reach". Internet is more than just technology.
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