January 6, 2012
Internet Seen as a Tool Not a Right by Internet Founder
Vinton Gray “Vint” Cerf contends that internet access should be seen as a tool for human rights, not as a human right in and of itself.
The internet has shown itself useful as a communication tool in recent history. Cerf says in his New York Times op ed, “From the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around the world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices that interact with it.”
The protesters got the word out to each other using Twitter or Facebook in order to organize against their governments. But is it the internet that is the right or the freedom of communication with like-minded others? According to Cerf, the internet doesn´t quite reach the bar to be considered a human right. He defines a human right as, “the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience.”
He says that the internet as a human or civil right overlooks a more fundamental issue, “The responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights.” The internet has equalized the platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a global scale. People have new ways of expressing their rights.
But engineers, the gatekeepers of new technologies, have responsibilities. They should be “protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers.” These technological barriers block people on a daily basis from their access to the tools that the internet provides.
Cerf sums up his argument saying, “Improving the Internet is just one means, albeit an important one, by which to improve the human condition. 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.”