The Internet should be a basic human right

Lily Baker, Contributing Writer

The future is unclear as to whether the Internet will be open and free to all, or begin to include a more regulated and taxing process. In response to these imagined changes, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, has spoken out regarding the policing of who gets to use the Internet. In a statement, he expressed that governments across the globe must work together to ensure equal access for everyone and mitigate digital divides. While many agree with Berners-Lee, others believe the Internet should be regulated to protect against those using it, in part because of the likelihood of Internet users being radicalized by heavily-curated online content or discussions. While radical extremism is certainly a major threat to the safety and security of many, we should not support increased barriers to Internet access. Instead, I believe that additional measures should be taken to make reporting of extremism easier, or other intelligent software should be used to seek out threatening searches or sites, rather than limiting others’ Internet access. The Internet provides an outlet for people to express themselves, raise awareness of issues and communicate on a global scale. Its critical role is already unavailable to far too many people, especially those living in poorer communities that lack stable connection. Thus further regulating the Internet would place billions in an unfair situation and potentially violate their human rights.

Fortunately for defenders of the right to Internet access, changes to the status quo will happen slowly, if at all. Any decision made about the Internet would require a high degree of international cooperation. This is an especially daunting task, since getting national governments to agree on anything in recent years has been nearly impossible. However, working together to make the Internet open to all is the only way to protect the rights of people around the world. Young people are some of the most affected by the unequal and unjust access to the Internet — restraining many from sharing their opinions and creations due to abridged or completely proscribed Internet access. If this persists, it would place those with privilege and government connections ahead, while others living in adverse conditions struggle to be heard. According to The Verge, in the United States, only two-thirds of those living in rural areas have broadband access, while 79%  of people living in the suburbs have access. This disparity, among others, highlights the unequal distribution of access to the Internet.

Berners-Lee believes that by limiting Internet accessibility to anyone, we ultimately fail to serve humanity. Minority groups are disproportionately targeted by this reality of abuse and misinformation on the Internet leaving specific religions, sexualities, genders and races without protection. Not only should access to the Internet be a basic human right, but also the right to equal protection from this harmful content. 

Terrorist and hate groups are obviously very present on the Internet, a substantially useful tool for recruitment and propaganda. This causes system stress, and with it arguments for regulation, but other steps may be taken rather than some overarching drastic abridgement of rights. By focusing on targeting harmful and hateful content, people can be provided with more protection. With a collective effort from national governments, the Internet can become a less hostile environment. Technology companies and law enforcement agencies can join forces to combat these threats. 

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly shown the need for equal access to the Internet. While everyone was forced to stay home and work from home, this left those with no access or unstable Internet access in a tough position with their work. With everyone working in their homes, those who are more privileged were able to continue working in an easier fashion. Creating an Internet free and open to all will help eliminate some of the barriers to equality and increase our collective, democratic freedom.

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