“Internet access is not a human right,” wrote Vinton Cerf in an OpEd in the New York Times on Thursday. Cerf is a prominent computer scientist who worked on the DARPA project that gave rise to the Internet, and is revered as the “Father of the Internet.”
Cerf, who wrote the piece in response to the United Nation’s drive towards declaring Internet access a human right, is Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist. He argued that “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself.”
“There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right,” said Cerf. “Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience.”
The U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, declared in June 2011 that Internet access “had become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights” following a series of fact-finding missions in 2010 sponsored by billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Swedish government. In October, La Rue encouraged governments to protect the free expression rights of citizens, except, he said, in cases where freedom of expression violates the human rights of others through racism and hate speech.
“It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things,” said Cerf. “For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.”
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell warned in December 2011 of the threat of a U.N. takeover of the Internet led by Russia, China and a coalition of developing nations with authoritarian regimes. In December, 193 countries are scheduled to meet on Internet matters in Dubai. McDowell warned that the conclusion could very well be an agreement to consolidate authority over the Internet under the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N. agency. (RELATED: FCC commissioner fears international Internet takeover)
“Improving the Internet is just one means, albeit an important one, by which to improve the human condition,” Cerf wrote. “It must be done with an appreciation for the civil and human rights that deserve protection — without pretending that access itself is such a right.”
Cerf was, however, more willing to concede that Internet access could be considered a civil right.
Left-wing groups that have worked with Google on “Internet freedom” issues — such as the Federal Communications Commission’s eff0rts to regulate Internet service providers’ abilities to manage network traffic (“net neutrality”) — and that have opposed congressional efforts to pass legislation that favor blocking foreign websites that facilitate copyright infringement, were silent on the issues Cerf raised.
Public Knowledge spokesman Art Brodsky declined The Daily Caller’s request for comment. Free Press did not return TheDC’s request for comment by the time of publication.
Fight for the Future, a leading organization in the battle against Representative Lamar Smith’s bill, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA), did offer some insight into their take on Cerf’s piece.
“Civil and human rights have been accessed and are exercised through use of the Internet for some time now,” Tiffiniy Cheng, director of Fight for the Future, wrote to TheDC in an email.
“How integral the technology is to defining and giving access to these rights is still to be decided, though at this point they seem highly synonymous,” Cheng wrote.