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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/17333/internet-access-as-a-human-right/

Internet Access as a Human Right

June 17, 2011 by

Libertarians (and some fellow travelers) have long been rightly skeptical, or even afraid, of the United Nations. There has been legitimate fear that it was a step towards one-world government, and global democracy with all the redistribution from North to South (i.e., West to third world/developing countries) that it would bring. The UN’s rhetoric is redistributionist and soft-socialist–calling for redistribution of manganese nodule wealth in the sea to poorer nations and other positive rights, such as  social security, employment, equal pay for equal work, vacation time, food, housing, medical care and education ((See my posts Bush and the Socialist “Law of the Sea Treaty” and Intellectual Property as Socialistic “Human Rights”.)) The term “human rights” thus has a socialist or leftist tinge, being associated not only with genuine rights, and legitimate procedural or prophylactic/civil rights (i.e. rights that are not natural but that are good fictional standins for limitations on state power), but also socialistic positive welfare rights.

However, international law, and the idea of the UN, is not all bad. International law is less dominated by artificial state legislation and is thus still more rooted in general principles of law–such as the doctrine pacta sunt servanda (agreements are to be respected), and related ideas like territorial integrity. And the idea of a place where nation-states can settle disputes instead of going to war is not all that bad. Further, it seems to me that the danger of a one-world government run by the UN has largely dissipated; the dominant nation-states, especially the US, don’t seem likely to cede their sovereignty to the UN. Instead, the real danger is that under the guise of the UN the US and other militarily powerful states (see Hoppe on why they are) has become the real hegemon. In either case, whether out of fear of loss of sovereignty to a centralizing one-world-government/UN, or to avoid giving the US another tool to impose its will on the world, there are good arguments that the US ought to get out of the UN (see Ron Paul, NeoCon Global Government; Paul has sponsored legislation to withdraw the US from the UN). Again, the chief concern nowadays is not fear of the UN itself but the danger of its being used as a legitimacy-cover for US-led aggression and domination.

And as noted, one has to be wary of the catch-phrase “human rights” as it can sometimes mean positive welfare rights. But not always. In fact, the UN Human Rights Council has recently opined that denying Internet access or related penalties–via laws such as  “three strikes” laws in France and the United Kingdom that boot users off the Internet for repeated copyright infringement, as well as ACTA and the DMCA–can violate human rights to free speech and related rights. In other words, the idea is that Internet access is a human right, and state regulations and laws that impair this are illegitimate.

Now, is Internet access really a human right–or, as we would say, an individual right, or libertarian right? Is free speech even a legitimate human right? No. As Rothbard explains, all human rights are property rights. But in a state legal system, a legal right simply acts as a limitation on state power. For the libertarian, who sees all or most state power as bad precisely because it infringes on real libertarian rights, any limitation on state power, even if it is labeled as a “right” but is really not a genuine libertarian right, is to be welcome. With one exception: that of positive rights, such as a right to food or a job; such “rights,” instead of being limitations on state power, are disguised grants of power to the state: it is then authorized to take from A to provide B with his “right.” But for other negative rights, such as a right to free speech, even though these are not real, independent rights (in libertarian theory, the right to free speech is merely a consequence of the more fundamental right to one’s body), it is still useful to have them seen as limits on the state. Other examples include constitutional and other “rights” that are not really natural rights, but merely “civil” rights, such as the right to due process, rights against double jeopardy, and so on. Any libertarian should favor these “rights” being imposed as limitations on state power.

And so it is with Internet access. There is no doubt that the Internet has become one of the most important weapons against the state, and use of the Internet crucial to survival in the modern world. Anything that restricts the power of states to hamper the Internet or to harm individuals by limiting their access to the Internet is good. And this is why I am not opposed to the UN implicit recognition of Internet access as a human right. (But please, don’t impose a global tax to set up municipal “free” wifi in poor communities around the world!)

Update: See the recent decisions of various local courts and regional and international tribunals in this ASIL International Law in Brief, for a sample of how these courts tend to be better than the policies of the states. See also The UN, International Law, and Nuclear Weapons.

Also: Vint Cerf: Internet Access Not a Human Right

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{ 13 comments }

Colin Phillips June 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I fear that the “human right” to internet will be used as a rationale to nationalise (or, since direct nationalisation is rare these days, to regulate, license and subsidise to the extent that it is not nationalisation in name only) the ISPs and other role-players in internet services. After all, if it’s a right, it’s inhuman to restrict it to only those who can pay, clearly the government must step in.

pussum207 June 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm

“Anything that restricts the power of states to hamper the Internet or to harm individuals by limiting their access to the Internet is good. And this is why I am not opposed to the UN implicit recognition of Internet access as a human right.”

But the very purpose of such policies is not to restrict states but to restrict private sector owners of networks and access to the Internet. Of course, the state will have to set up explicit or implicit subsidies to ensure that everyone has access to the internet at what the state deems to be reasonable cost. And, of course, other rules such as the minimum speed at which people are entitled to have access (and thus the type of access – wireless vs fibre) and the so-called openness of access (i.e., net neutrality) will also have to be specified, plus lots of other stuff you and I haven’t yet thought of. And, of course, entry will have to be implicitly or explicitly restricted to maintained the complex regulatory structure. There is lots and lots (and I mean lots) of precedent for this in telecom regulation all around the world.

The purpose of making internet access a right, as with all positive rights, is not to restrict governments (look at the membership of the UN!) but to allow them greater scope and ideological cover to regulate and control it. The web has been a powerful counterweight to the state not because the government has been involved but because the state was caught off guard by the relatively free developments in the web. The web is the marketplace of the future and the state wants to be in a position to rein it in.

Since when has government saying something is a positive right ever ensured a better supply of it?

DD5 June 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm

“And this is why I am not opposed to the UN implicit recognition of Internet access as a human right.”

Are you just desperately trying to see if you can construct an argument in support for something,..anything, coming out of the UN (or any other Statist organization)? Perhaps as a personal challenge? Because It is pretty obvious that the implied intent is a positive right. Not a negative right. Negative rights explicitly have negatives in them: “… shall not infringe the right to acquire Internet access….” or something like that. Does the UN recognition have any such negatives in its phrasing??

Windows Hater June 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm

“There has been legitimate fear that it was a step towards one-world government”

How about a one-world no-governments ?

How about central deplanning ?

Windows Hater June 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Given that internet access is provided by private companies, it cannot be construed as a right.

From the libertarian point of view, private companies have the right to refuse to service you and if all internet companies refuse to service you, you cannot force them by law to grant you internet access.

The day that communications will be based by non-hertzian methods, “Internet” access will be free of charge and everybody will be able to connect 24/7 free of charge from anywhere in the universe without necessitating a hertzian or cable connection.

But still, nobody will be forced to grant you access to their “website”, services nor even communicate with you.

If libertarians argue that having a job is not a right, then neither is Internet access.

coturnix19 June 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm

But that means that government can not in any way tell you if you can or can not connect to the internet. Also, internet is not a hierarchical system, apart from centralised leasing of ip-addresses, which means that if you can produce some content or services, really the ‘user connects to the internet’ phrase is not correct, but rather intenet growth itself by incorporating your network into it.

Windows Hater June 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm

You are correct in the fact that the is no such thing as an “internet”, it is not something nor someone, it’s an aggregate of networks, routes and properties.

You pay for the main route between your home and your provider, but you could conceivably make an agreement with your neighbor to share his internet access with you for a price or to directly access the internet through a company’s LAN, WAN etc.

You are right, the government cannot tell you if you can or cannot access the internet.

But your stating that the internet is not a hierarchical network is wrong. The big flaw of the internet is precisely because it uses a hierarchical routing protocol with physical addresses. This is why the internet can be censored, shut downed, traced etc.

The solution would be to use content addressing instead of physical addressing. The IP leasing is what makes the internet so regulative. If there was a way to develop a network without physical addressing but content addressing, then there would be no way to bar and regulate entry.

Hari Michaelson June 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Stephan,

I think you’re being desperately optimistic. This will probably lead to the US invading Iran in order to protect the “human right” of internet access. I do believe that the US and Nato involvement in Libya has something to do with “human rights” (apparently the right to get blown up by cluster bombs). When it really matters, has the UN been anything but shallow excuse and facade for unpalatable government actions? Furthermore, I simply fail to see how this can possibly have any good outcome. Will the UN stop any country from cutting off the internet if it wants to? Sure, as long as its not the US or China or Russia or England or France or Germany.

Also I predict that with enough time the hague will be bringing people up on “crimes against humanity.” You charged high prices for internet connections?? Crime against humanity. You decided to organize your network in favor of certain websites or data transfers?? Crime against humanity.

I can understand your frustration with the US gov slowly moving to take over the internet, but there is no way that the UN will do anything to halt that.

Hari Michaelson June 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Hari Michaelson June 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm
Stephan,

I think you’re being desperately optimistic. This will probably lead to the US invading Iran in order to protect the “human right” of internet access. I do believe that the US and Nato involvement in Libya has something to do with “human rights” (apparently the right to get blown up by cluster bombs). When it really matters, has the UN been anything but shallow excuse and facade for unpalatable government actions? Furthermore, I simply fail to see how this can possibly have any good outcome. Will the UN stop any country from cutting off the internet if it wants to? Sure, as long as its not the US or China or Russia or England or France or Germany.

Also I predict that with enough time the hague will be bringing people up on “crimes against humanity.” You charged high prices for internet connections?? Crime against humanity. You decided to organize your network in favor of certain websites or data transfers?? Crime against humanity.

I can understand your frustration with the US gov slowly moving to take over the internet, but there is no way that the UN will do anything to halt that.

Stephan Kinsella June 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Guys, appreciate all the comments. To be clear: I am still against the UN. I am against all positive law. I am simply saying that one institution arguing that another institution has no right to deny, via its coercive powers, individuals access to the internet, as punishment for violation of its artificial rules, is not a terrible thing.

Windows Hater June 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Rights, from a libertarian perspective, can only be defined as negatives. The right to be left alone, to not have your private property invaded, to not be robbed, to not be wounded by someone else.

A right can never be a “positive” because then it implies that there is another party which is forced to provide for your positive right.

That’s why I never claimed unemployment benefits.

Gil June 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Since Libertarians see no such things as “human rights” whether it be internet access, eletrictiy access, clean water access, etc., then there’s no point to this article.

Windows Hater June 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Gil,

Libertarians define rights as negatives, not as positives.

The right to be left alone.
The right to not have your property stolen from you.
The right to not be kidnapped, to not be hurt etc.

Positive “rights” imply that somebody, somewhere is forced to provide for those rights. To libertarians, those kinds of “rights” constitute a detour robbery.

If I have the right to claim unemployment benefits, this means that somebody is forced to pay unemployment premiums. Therefore that somebody no longer has the right to not have his property stolen.

That’s why libertarians cannot agree that rights are positives.

To libertarians, you don’t have the right to life. Nobody should be forced to provide for you. You have the right to not have your life taken from you but you have to provide for yourself. Others could willfully provide for you if they wish to, but they cannot be forced under the threat of violence or law. That is the view of libertarians.

So in the extreme where everything is private property and nobody wants to do business with you, you would only have the right to die.

Survival and success is not a right under libertarianism.

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