The Internet is a fundamental human right, a United Nations report released on Friday proclaims — a statement that resonates all the more in the wake of the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the ongoing uprisings and protests in the Middle East and North Africa. The Internet, and sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, played a huge role in helping protesters organize and spread information and also in spreading the word about what was going on around the world.
Says the UN report on the “promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression”:
The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.”
On the very day of the UN’s announcement, two-thirds of the Internet access went out in Syria. It’s a move that suggests the government’s continuing efforts to clamp down months of protests by asserting its authority, often brutally — and yet Friday also saw some of the biggest protests yet, with 50,000 reportedly marching in the city of Hama.
When Egypt’s now-ousted president Hosni Mubarak cut off the Internet, there was international outcry. Mubarak and other former senior officials now face $34 million in fines for the Internet blackout, a harsh reminder to dictators that, if you cut off access, you will have to pay.
Indeed the UN report highlights the recent pro-democracy protests in the Arab world:
[T]he recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights,” the report notes. “As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States.
The Atlantic points out that some other countries, including Estonia, France and Costa Rica have already passed laws declaring Internet access a fundamental human right. Finland’s law even goes so far as to specify broadband speed:
In 2009, Finland, the report notes, “passed a decree … stating that every Internet connection needs to have a speed of at least one Megabit per second (broadband level).” There, should they need to, people will be able to organize even faster.
On a somewhat lighter note, it’s possible the UN’s resolution could cause parents a bit of a headache. Just wait till we hear reports of a teenager protesting Mom and Dad for deprivation of his “fundamental human right” because he’s been grounded by not being able to use the computer.
Image by Wilfried Huss / Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons