Since its quaint beginnings as ARPANET, the Internet has blossomed into an unfathomably vast network, a thing which has almost completely redefined the way we get our news, communicate with others, and, yes, share silly pictures of cats.
For a system so gigantic, there are relatively few laws governing Internet access. But that could change after a United Nations official found that the Internet is a basic human right.
Frank La Rue, a UN Special Rapporteur, filed the report in question. La Rue’s perspective is that blocking online content or accessibility to certain websites violates the right to freedom of expression, another basic human right.
Unsurprisingly, La Rue’s report has been well-received online. “[T]he Internet’s unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights,” wrote Cynthia Wong of the Center for Democracy and Technology. With recent uprisings in Iran, Egypt, Libya, and Syria all organizing online, it’s no wonder totalitarian states often strike first by cutting off or severely curtailing web access. In some instances, bloggers have actually been jailed or killed.
Of course, the U.N.’s report is just that: a report. The United Nations can suggest actions be taken, but it’s not exactly news that some nations ignore them.
Still, it’s a good first step. And it got us thinking: what laws govern the Internet here in the United States?
As far as governing Internet access itself, the main fight stateside has been over Internet Neutrality. Last December, the FCC sided with web advocates and preserved the “nondiscrimination principle for broadband Internet access,” which, in layman’s terms, basically means a user’s access is not restricted by the government or Internet service providers.
How about laws which govern content? Well, while laws such as the CANSPAM Act — which covers the mass marketing emails known colloquially as SPAM — and a suite of measures passed by Congress which govern minors’ access to sexually explicit content, America’s Internet content laws are much less stringent than many European states might like. In fact, the EU has argued that users should have a “right to be forgotten,” meaning that users could request to have their data withdrawn by the companies holding it online. In the U.S., home of the world’s largest search engines and social media companies, these measures have been viewed with far more skepticism.
What do you think? While we all want some measure of privacy, should we have the right to simply redact things online? And if so, where do you draw the line? For now, at least according to the U.N., we have a fundamental right to go online.
The real fight may be over what we actually find there.
- LANjackal: The U.N. Declares Internet Access a Human Right (theatlanticwire.com)
- California Advances Internet “Do Not Track” Bill (legallyeasy.rocketlawyer.com)
- U.N. Report on the Internet and Freedom of Expression (ohchr.org)
- Internet Privacy and the “Right to be Forgotten” (reuters.com)