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Communications of the ACM


Access to the Internet Is a Human Right

human rights logo (dove-like hand)

The human rights logo (the dove-like hand on the left) was chosen via a crowdsourced online competition involving people from 190 countries submitting over 15,000 entries.

Connecting Internet access with freedom of expression and creativity.

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Justin Kellner

When the author(s) say that their argument for rights status is based on the "capability to participate" (in the American rights to associate and express yourself freely), that "capability" they are using at the core of their argument - by definition and necessity - makes the right in question one step removed. The capability to participate is not the right, the capability is a dependency. That capability is thus not the right, but a single manifestation, of a vehicle to the realization of that true "inextricably intertwined" right. This to me, is the nexus of the digital divide issue, because the 'right' to access the Internet is only as meaningful as your physical access to the Internet. (Until it can be bestowed upon citizens as a birthright, the way access to a fair trial can.) In other words, your capability to exercise a particular right cannot - and should not - be extensible to the status of a human right itself. Doing so would soon diminish the social and personal value inherent in our core human rights. Until the (or 'a') government can guarantee in law, equal and universal access to the Internet without buckling under the burden, you're breaking the functional definition of a human right.

CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor (pp. 8-9) in the September 2013 CACM (
--CACM Administrator

Looking to rebut Vinton G. Cerf's New York Times op-ed essay "Internet Access Is Not a Human Right" (Jan. 4, 2012), Stephen Wicker's and Stephanie M. Santoso's Viewpoint "Access to the Internet Is a Human Right" (June 2013) missed a few things; they said, for example, Internet access is intertwined with "human capabilities that are considered fundamental to a life worth living." Hmm. Does that mean, say, a monk who chooses to live in a community without Internet access is "diminished or denied"? The ordinary dictionary definition of rights (as in "something to which one has a just claim, as the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled" or "something that one may properly claim as due") requires no action by anyone else. Could it be that a person who chooses to live in a remote place with no access to an ISP is likewise "denied his or her rights"? Moreover, who might be sued or arrested for violating those rights? We in the Western world live at the historical pinnacle of human luxury and comfort where many constantly try to expand "rights." Such attempts are misguided for many reasons, including the related diminishment of the fundamental rights inherent in just being a human. When everything is a right, nothing is.

Alexander Simonelis
Montral, Canada

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