Is Internet Access a Human Right? Linking Information and Communication Technology Development with Global Human Rights’ Efforts

By Jenifer Sunrise Winter.

Published by The Global Studies Journal

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Abstract: The wave of uprisings and protests in Arab nations since late 2010, in part attributed to the use of social media and Internet access, has demonstrated the immense potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) channeled for democracy. This paper argues that universal access to the global Internet is essential for the preservation of democracy and human rights and places the recent United Nations declaration that Internet access is a human right in the context of ongoing debates about the right to communicate, clarifying the distinction between universal service and the right to communicate. In particular, access to online content, required infrastructure, and ICTs is addressed, underscoring “the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole” (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2011, p.1). A basic right to communicate should also include access to developments such as the World Wide Web and emerging social media, as these are increasingly enabling active citizen participation (Winter & Wedemeyer, 2009). Envisioning participatory policy as grass-roots engagement, I address claims that modern ICTs can be employed to create public spaces for discourse and a reinvigoration of democratic processes (e.g., the Internet as a platform for the “public sphere” as imagined by Habermas, 1991) and emphasize the need to link ICT development with human rights efforts worldwide.

Keywords: Right to Communicate, Internet, ICT, Social Media, United Nations, Human Rights

Global Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.35-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 451.291KB).

Dr. Jenifer Sunrise Winter

Assistant Professor, School of Communications, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

Jenifer Sunrise Winter is an Assistant Professor in the School of Communications at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dr. Winter’s research focuses on communication policy and planning in the context of ubiquitous network societies, including the right to communicate and citizen engagement in forming technology policy. She teaches courses related to ICTs and policy, and is a 2011 recipient of the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching. Prior to joining the School of Communications, she worked in commercial radio and for the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance. She serves as Secretary of the Right to Communicate Group.


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