Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Internet and Human Rights

Nations across the world don't have the freedoms that we receive in the United States. Every day people are denied their basic human rights including their freedom of speech and freedom to information. Why is this? It's because knowledge is power and a nation that can control the flow of information also controls it's people. In 2002 Jonathan Zittrain and Benjamen Edelman conducted empirical tests to determine what websites were being blocked in China. They determined that China was blocking websites related to news, education, health, religion, and democracy. This is a clear violation of human rights, yet virtually no action has been taken. 

 In a more recent paper, Xiaowei Wang argues that we should begin considering the internet as a human right because access to the internet aids in the protection of one's rights to free speech and information, and removal of the internet would jeopardize those rights. Wang addresses a counter argument made by Viton Cerf which states that: even though the internet does enable human rights, it is not a human right. Wang states that this argument assumes that human rights should be minimalistic and transhistorical. This misses the point of human rights; this logic wouldn't include many of the human rights in the UDHR such as rights to democracy, freedom of speech, or paid vacation. Wang states that in order for human rights to be powerful they must be able to react to the current political and technological climate. Their political purpose is to protect the people who cannot help themselves.

That being said, I disagree with Wang's argument that the internet is a human right, but instead uphold that it is an enabler of human rights. Therefore China and other countries are clearly violating their peoples' human rights by filtering their internet and outside information. Instead of making the internet a human right, we should seek stronger corrective measures which would ensure that current human rights are not violated. However, this is much easier said than done. When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton criticized China for their internet policies in 2010, China responded harshly saying that her speech greatly hurt the US-China relationship. Because of this it is unlikely that the US will preform any real intervention. There is no easy solution to this problem and the Chinese people will suffer until we find one.

Time to Think about Human Right to the Internet Access: A Beitz’s Approach

Empirical Analysis of Internet Filtering in China

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I think this is the single greatest question that we have to ask about our digital age and our dependence on the web for vital communications. Is it a right? Or enabler of rights? I kind of think about the web like the phone - we use it just liked we used to use the phone - to communicate, to reach out, to get information. If we think about phones being wiretapped, it's pretty horrible. Or we could go even further back to letter-writing. What if all letters were opened before they got to the recipient of it? If we think about this in regards to the internet, we see the violation. In the cases of phones, letters, etc. - they were only tapped or censored if criminal activity was suspected. everyone now considered a potential criminal?