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This 8-Bit Life | September 25, 2016

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Internet Access: A (Modern) Basic Human Right - This 8-Bit Life

Leland Flynn

That title may be upsetting to some but it gets my basic point across. We live in a world, not just the “first world” where our lives and destinies rely on our ability to communicate with each other. If you distill this concept, it’s really always been that way. Our ability to directly communicate via language, our concepts, thoughts, and emotions to one another was and is a defining factor in why we are the dominant species on the planet. It binds us, separates us and enables us to enact great feats. In short, communication IS our way of life.

Currently, the most widespread form of communication between people is the Internet. This covers a very broad spectrum of methods from actually speaking to each other via services like Skype and Google Voice to the use of social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus. In order to take part, to really have a voice that can be heard amongst the din in our worldwide conversations, one must have access to the Internet. I would argue that one must have unfettered access. That is, service that’s not throttled, shaped, blocked or filtered. To block a user from access to specific data is to limit their ability to speak and understand. This violates a basic human right free and open speech.

Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as written by the UN states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This would seem to state implicitly to me that no one recognized as a person under law should be deprived of their ability to communicate. The statement “… through any media and regardless of frontiers” does, very clearly cover the Internet. So if we are following these as a basic concept of Human Rights, logic dictates that unfettered Internet access must be available to all persons under law. Currently governments around the world, in my case the US are considering enabling DNS blacklists. Previously in the US there was a bill known as COICA (Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) that would have allowed our government the ability to deem any website (with great ambiguity) as infringing upon the law and would allow that the registrar of said domain be ordered to suspend operation of the domain. This would effectively block the site from most people as they would have no ready method of access. The site would still exist on the net but would be unreachable by hosts affected. COICA was killed in the Senate after having never received a full Senate vote. Unfortunately it has now been resurrected as the Protect IP Act. All of this is being done in the name of anti-piracy. It is intended to protect corporate entities from “theft”. I can understand the argument for protecting copyrights, but this law would give our government too broad a control over what we can and cannot consume or say on the Internet. This discussion of Internet censorship is where the new battle for our right to free speech will be waged. I urge anyone who has not at least skimmed the Protect IP Act to give it a read through. It is rather unsettling.

The US is of course not the only country that is considering action like this and there are already quite a few that are in worse violation of this human right. The most obvious of these would be China. At the beginning of this year the Egyptian government virtually shut down Internet access in their country when civil unrest boiled over and revolution broke out. The intent was to stop any undesirable information from entering or leaving the country. I’m not going to step into tin foil hat territory and tell you that the US government is going to shut down our Internet access in the event of unrest, what I am saying is that it is a possibility and something that we should be wary of.

Even more recently AT&T has decided that it is going to stop providing unlimited data to its customers who paid for said service. More specifically it is going to throttle the connection speeds of its users who consume the most data. They will still technically have access but at a considerably slower rate than what their original plan dictated. The myriad of other legal questions this raises aside, this would violate Article 19 of the previously mentioned declaration of human rights. It would limit the rate at which a person can communicate on a service that they pay for. We’ve seen similar censorship with ISP’s shutting off the connections of users utilizing the BitTorrent protocol. If a person steals something in this country, we don’t take the use of their hands other than to restrain them while in custody of the authorities. ISP’s in this situation are acting as judge and jury. They may own the service but they should have no legal authority to dictate our right to use.

I’d like to end by saying that I think this is one of the most important discussions of our time. Here and now is where we will define our rights to communication for our future.

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