Is There a Right To Internet Access?

It’s difficult to be or feel a global citizen if you cannot access the internet.

This is the first  powerful gift we received from internet: the elimination of remoteness. No matter if you are in Europe or Africa, in some little island  or on a mainland, in a crowded metropolis or in a lonely countryside: you can join a global debate, sharing your thoughts.

The second powerful gift is that we said goodbye to that sense of loneliness or estrangement typical when your thoughts are different from those of the ones around you. Whatever your point of view, you can connect with like-minded people. You are not alone.

… and the power of imagination, the force of dreams is multipled by connections.

This silent revolution had an impact (still to be measured) on our culture, on economy and politics. And on our rights. Internet became a main vehicle for freedom of expression, right to information, even political activity.

Revolutions and political campaigns of the last decades would have been inconceivable without it

Does it mean that accessing the internet is a new generation human fundamental right?

I’d like to say so. Nonetheless, as a jurist, I have my doubts.

A true fundamental right should be granted to all, it’s universal, inalienable, non-discriminatory. A fundamental right couldn’t be denied in any circumstance. It is both a right and an obligation: for states, to grant it.

Are international law, states, or other public subjects, able to guarantee this right to all? Unfortunately not, not yet. Nonetheless I think this is the new target, or the new standard that we should imagine -at least- as  a civil and political right. And I’m not alone to think so.

Nobody could deny that it is instrumental and sometimes even necessary to the right of information, freedom of expression and democratic participation. If we think of the global public sphere, we should admit that interacting and participating is necessarily channelled through internet and – when it is not- remoteness without internet translates in high costs and lack of information, in one word: discrimination.

Providing free wifi to all is a target that many countries around the world are still unable to grant. Others could, but are still far from providing it. Economic interests and market structures, as they are, are a powerful obstacle. Ad hoc policies should be put in place. Some states are at the forefront of this revolution -as Estonia or Finland- in France the Constitutional Court took a bold stance for it.

What is self evident, so, is that if we cannot (yet!) impose to state to provide free access to all, we can nonetheless qualify as an infringement of several human rights any censorship or denial of service.

And here is one of these strange legal paradoxes: accessing the internet is not a right, being denied the access is an infringement of a right. It is the best way, nowadays, to shut up a political protest, cut off the communication, isolate. And even if legal documents don’t state in clear words the birth of a new fundamental human right (at least I couldn’t find it), several ones declare that denying access to the internet is a severe infringement of democracy and fundamental rights.

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