Today’s society is witnessing huge and important changes in itself. We are living in the information society. That new environment raises new questions and challenges for all of us, whether we are IT experts, economists or lawyers. One of the preconditions for being a part and an active member of that society is Internet access. Without Internet access we are not able to use the wide range of other opportunities that Internet offers.
That the Internet access is the necessary prerequisite for having an active role in today’s society is a statement about which the majority is agreed upon. However, there are questions that are subject of debates and about which there are no consensus yet. One of them is the question whether Internet access represents a fundamental right of the citizens or not. Before answering that question, it is important to explain what does ‘fundamental right’ mean to me.
Although most people consider ‘fundamental right’ as an alternative term for ‘human right’, I am standing on the position that ‘human right’ is a broader term than ‘fundamental right’, bearing in mind that there are human rights which are considered to be fundamental and those which are considered to be human rights of second and third generation. Without fundamental rights we cannot live, but without the human rights of second or third generation our life is of lower quality. Therefore, if the question was whether Internet access represents a human right, I would say yes, but since the question is whether Internet access is a fundamental right, my answer is no.
How could Internet access be considered as a fundamental right, when there are still a huge number of people not having it and certainly they will not manage to have it in the near future, bearing in mind that they are not able to exercise much more important rights than Internet access. If the situation is different and all people have an access to the Internet, we would not have the term ‘digital divide’. According toMossberger, Tolbert and Stansbury (2003, p. 1, para. 2), ‘the term ‘digital divide’ has been used to describe the patterns of unequal access to information technology based on income, race, ethnicity, gender, age and geography that surfaced during the mid – 1990s.’
Beside the question whether Internet access is a fundamental right or not, it is important to address the question what are the advantages or disadvantages of proclaiming Internet access as a fundamental right of citizens, since some countries already claimed that it is a fundamental right. France brought the law concerning copyright which provides that no one is entitled to cancel someone’s access to the Internet as a result of a violation of copyright law, unless that violation and someone’s guilt is established by the Court.
The advantages of the proclamation Internet access as a fundamental right might be, first of all, protection of users. It should not be the Internet Service Providers that are deciding if someone violated copyright laws or not, but the Courts. Furthermore, the existence of the regulations concerning who is entitled to decide about that question will encourage more people to consider Internet as a part of their lives, not as a source of threat to their lives.
On the other hand, proclaiming Internet access as a fundamental right has disadvantages as well. Given that a lot of people do not have an access to Internet, I am asking, does that mean that there is a violation of their fundamental right? If it is your fundamental right and you are not able to exercise it, there is a violation of your right and someone should be responsible for it.
Bearing all of this in mind, I would like to conclude that Internet access is not a fundamental right of the citizens yet, but it should be in the future. In order to proclaim Internet access as a fundamental right, several conditions should be met, one of which is a technological infrastructure. Without it, it is hard to imagine how that right would function in practice.
Mossberger, K. et. Al. (2003). Virtual Inequality: Beyond the Digital Divide, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press., p. 1