Internet access is a basic human right

By The Beacon | February 6, 2014 3:01am

Governments must treat Internet access as a basic human right

Parker Kimball |

Internet censorship is very much a real thing, though as Americans we hardly feel the pangs of the practice. Our freedoms allow us almost limitless power to access, publish or view anything on the Internet. There is some moderate Internet censorship for many democratic countries. For others, however, governing authorities will increase censorship to ridiculous levels. In order to limit access to news and events such as elections, protests and riots, several countries around the world increase Internet censorship to levels that infringe on what many people agree is a basic human right: access to the Internet.

Internet censorship varies greatly on a country-to-country basis. While many countries in the Americas are considered to only have little to no censorship in place, countries such as China, Iran, Syria and Vietnam are infamous for strict control of Internet access.

In China, Internet censorship is largely impacted by what is commonly referred to as “The Great Firewall.” Beginning operations in 2003, this Great Firewall -- official called the Golden Shield Project -- uses various means of censorship. These methods include IP blocking, DNS filtering and redirection, URL filtering, packet filtering, and connection resetting, according to an investigative report conducted in 2002 at Harvard University. It is no surprise that in March this year, Reporters without Borders -- a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press -- listed China as a “State Enemy of the Internet.”

In their annual report, Reporters without Borders include reports of censorship tactics discovered that different governments use. According to the Reporters Without Borders “Internet Enemies Report 2012,” a country may, in order to prevent unwanted digital content from spreading, “cut off communications by blocking SMS messaging and by shutting down Internet access and mobile phone services in a temporary or targeted manner.”

Egypt in late 2011, Syria in 2012 and Sudan this year all have gone so far as to hit the “kill switch,” completely shutting off all Internet communications, sometimes for days at a time. This sort of drastic measure seems to come into play only during times of extreme political unrest, such as the events of the Arab Spring.

According to the 2012 “Global Internet User Survey,” there is sufficient data to support the claim that access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right. The United Nations has declared that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” And countries such as France and Estonia have even pronounced Internet access a human right according to a New York Times article published early last year. The pervasive censorship practiced in parts of the world is a violation of these (hopefully) soon-to-be-recognized human rights. Governments everywhere may need to place some form of limited censorship for the betterment of all users, but these extreme cases of censorship -- the flipping of the “kill switch” and the Great Firewall – demonstrate a practice that has gone too far. This limits the communication with the citizens of these countries. It now infringes on the rights of the citizens everywhere.

Parker Kimball is a junior computer science major. He can be reached at