Internet and Human Rights

Internet and Human Rights

Name: Vrinda Adawal & Anshul Rajora

College: Symbiosis Law School, Noida


INTRODUCTION

The Internet is a virtual network connecting people globally, which can be used to access information and has become a mode of communication.  With time internet has progressed and so has its usages. It is for the person using the internet to decide whether to use it for the right reasons or not. The Internet is a technology that has made learning easier and reachable, it is a great source of knowledge. It has also become a source for running businesses as it gives a faster medium for communication along with a platform for advertisement to the masses. E-Commerce is also one of the examples of businesses wherein the transactions take place online.

But on the other side of the coin, it leads to a world of negativity wherein internet is used for stalking, hacking and other crimes. Internet addiction is another downside found in many teenagers which basically means that they are not able to survive without their wireless internet connection through WiFi or the access to the internet for a long period of time. Everything has its pros and cons and this inevitable phenomenon is no alien to the Internet.[1]

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death.[2] All the fundamental rights come under the ambit of human rights. Human rights provide a step forward towards justice and help judiciary ineffective and fair decision making. Human beings are social creatures and they live in a society. Every individual in the society has the right to expression and right to a decent living.

With evolution, people started using the Internet in a way that it resulted in the violation of the basic rights provided to the citizens. The Internet is a great way to express yourself freely but using this opportunity by harming other person’s reputation and defaming him is a violation of his right to live with dignity. This was just one instance that was mentioned but there have been cases of hacking, cyber-bullying, phishing scams, cyber-terrorism and more that violate our human rights.

RIGHT TO INTERNET ACCESS

Right to internet access is the right that is provided to all the individuals to freely access internet in order to enjoy the rights of freedom of expression, freedom of opinion, freedom of development and all other fundamental human rights. It is required that states should not put any unreasonable restriction on anyone to access the internet. The openness of the internet and its interactivity make it possible for people to gain more resources at a much lower cost, meanwhile exchanging ideas and expressing themselves.

INTERNET ACCESS AS HUMAN RIGHT: UNITED NATIONS RESOLUTION

In the 20th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) a resolution was accepted wherein unitedly it was confirmed that internet access is a fundamental human right. The resolution affirms that individuals have the right to express themselves freely in the actual world and they should have the freedom to do so in the virtual world, i.e. on the Internet as well.

The resolution was opposed by countries including Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and India. The issue was with the passage that “condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to our dissemination of information online.”[3]

Highlights of the resolution are as follows[4]:

  • The resolution affirms that same rights that people have in the real world must be extended to an online world, in particular, freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of their geographical boundaries.
  • The resolution seconds the open nature of Internet and agrees that it is the driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms.
  • The resolution urges all countries and states to promote and facilitate access to the internet and calls upon international co-operation to develop media and communication facilities for their citizens
  • The UNHRC will continue its consideration of the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of expression, on the Internet, as well as of how the Internet can be an important tool for development and for exercising human rights.

These resolutions given by the UN cannot be enforced legally. They can be observed as suggestions or helping guidelines that would come handy to the governments when any law regarding internet are to be made. These can be used by the participating nations and to put gravity onto the differing thought processes that others may have.

This resolution passed by the UN would now give many countries across the globe a different viewpoint in regard to censoring actions of the citizens of their country. This probably is one of the most important decisions that will shape how consumers, corporations, and governments will use the internet in the future.

INTERNET ACCESS AS HUMAN RIGHT: INDIA

Citizens have the right to access the Internet to gain information, wisdom, and knowledge and their right cannot be curtailed unless it encroaches into the boundary of illegality and banning advertisements on pre-natal sex determination on websites do not curtail the right of internet access, said the Indian Supreme Court.

Calling the Internet a “virtual world” and a “world which is invisible in a way,” the Supreme Court observed that the fundamental right of expression includes “the right to be informed and the right to know and the feeling of protection of expansive connectivity” the Internet offers on the click of a button.

In the essence, the Supreme Court has provided the right of Internet Access to the individuals but with reasonable restrictions. Until and unless this right is used for the knowledgeable and legal purpose it is valid, the moment the right is used for illegal purposes it is restricted.

In March 2017, Kerala declared that it would be the first state in India to declare Internet access as a human right. The main goal of the Kerala government is to make the people in the e-literate. It is well known that Kerala is a State with the highest literacy rate in India. By taking this initiative of internet access as a human right, it would step forward to development.

The plan of action by the state is going to be installing new high-speed optical fibers which provide the network connectivity, these would run alongside the board network of electricity which is already existing. By 2018, nearly all the governmental transactions will be available online so the goal is to provide all the people living in the state to meet this standard. The connectivity to get a 100% in a year’s time and initially access to be given to at least one person in one family is what they are rooting for.

With coming of Digital India in 2015, it can be seen that India is working towards the virtual and technological development. Digital India aims for a better-quality of online infrastructure which is to be achieved by escalating the Internet connectivity. In today’s time, it is essential for countries to be digitally empowered and especially for the developing countries.

Right to Internet says that each and every person must have access to broadband Internet, so they can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and speech.[5] Article 14 of the Indian Constitution provides for the right to equality which in simple words mean that everyone should be treated equally. By providing the internet to all the citizens, it is treating them equally and initiative towards development. Article 21 of the Constitution when interpreted provides for right to development and right to dignity.

This right would support the freedom of expression and freedom of speech provided in the Constitution. This would offer a big chunk of the population in India a new platform to express themselves. Right to Internet Access would give many choices to people, so that people could choose other resources, instead of limiting those in their own region, to meet their basic needs. If limiting internet use and connection could deprive people’s right to choose other resources besides basic needs. It is a very convenient communication means and new media, the internet provides users unlimited choices, compared with the time when the internet had not yet appeared and had only a few limited choices.

But then the cases like the Blue Whale Game that take away your fundamental right to life through the medium of the internet, making the internet a risky place to be. The Blue Whale Game is a game in which a person is directed to perform 50 tasks and the last task is to take his or her life, if they don’t their family and loved ones are harmed. Many persons have become the victim of this game “An engineering student in Kolkata, believed to have completed several levels of the "Blue Whale" suicide game and had even carved an image of the animal on his arm with a blade, says he was saved by his college friends, faculty and counselling by the West Bengal police.”[6] Such so-called games make vulnerable people who need the help of somebody a victim of the internet. Before taking any step forward by any government, it is important that they first take all the precautions by creating a strong foot in the internet world themselves. Forecasting is an essential step in planning and for setting up internet access to everyone an effective plan is very much required.

RIGHT TO INTERNET ACCESS IN CONTEXT WITH DIFFERENT HUMAN RIGHTS

Freedom of Opinion and Expression: under Article 19 (a) every citizen has the right of speech and expression[7]. Nowadays, unlike traditional media, the internet allows people to seek, receive and impart information rapidly and with extremely low cost. Besides, beyond national boundaries and time limitations, the internet allows people to receive different information instead of the single resource from the government so that people can exercise the freedom of opinion and expression more actively and broadly. Now, the internet has already become an essential tool for people to exercise the freedom of expression. Therefore, the right to internet access can ensure people’s right to freely use the internet, which, as a new media tool, can be considered as a new development and new way of the freedom of opinion and expression in the internet era.

Right to Equality: Article 14 of the Indian Constitution provide the right to equality to every individual[8]. The internet provides many choices to people so that people could choose other resources, instead of limiting those in their own region, to meet their basic needs. And limiting internet use and connection could deprive people’s right to choose other resources besides basic needs. As a convenient communication means and new media, the internet provides users unlimited choices, compared with the time when the internet had not yet appeared and had only a few limited choices. People who can freely use the internet have more chances than those who are limited or cannot use it and become less advantaged. Therefore, the right to internet access ensures the right to equality.

Right to development: The right to internet access ensures people in less developed regions can reach to the internet so that the development level of economy and culture between regions and groups can be balanced by the advantages provided by the internet and people can achieve self-development.

Freedom of Assembly: Traditionally, freedom of assembly means assembly in a physical public area, such as an urban street or square. But after the appearance of internet, the network can be a new assembly area, a former American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said: “The cyberspace has become a new assembly area for people in the 21st century”[9].  The internet, especially social network as Facebook and Twitter, not only enables people to project with their voice by way of net topic but also serves as a convenient and efficient communication tool for calling for and organizing people to assemble and parade.

CONCLUSION

The question which arises is that by providing the right to internet access what are the precautions the government is ready to take? The guarantee that it will not violate the fundamental rights like right to privacy and right to live with dignity is important for the people. With good comes bad as well, there are cases of harassment, bullying, hacking and online scams that have been observed. A fear regarding the number of cyber - crimes would increase by providing internet access to all. When a child gets a new toy, he is so fascinated by it that he plays with it till the time it does not break and that is the case with the adults as well, the exploitation of internet once one learns to use is not a difficult thing to do. Before providing this right to internet access, it is important to make cybersecurity very strong in the country and a higher level of alertness in order to be prepared for any kind of exploitation of the internet.


[1] Anjali Bisht, Net Neutrality – It’s about Right to Equality, INBA from https://www.indianbarassociation.org/net-neutrality-its-about-right-to-equality/

[2] What are human rights?, Equality and Human Rights Commission from https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/human-rights/what-are-human-rights

[3] Tim Sandle, Digital Journal, Jul. 22, 2016, 11:57 PM, UN thinks internet access is a human right, Business Insider from http://www.businessinsider.com/un-says-internet-access-is-a-human-right-2016-7?IR=T

[4] Ibid 3

[5] Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala to declare access to Internet a human right, first for an Indian state, Hindustan Times from http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/kerala-only-a-mouse-click-away-from-new-human-right-hi-speed-internet-access/story-zw5vWB6S8GzQFqKT1qqpVK.html

[6] Express Web Desk, New Delhi, Blue Whale challenge: These are the 5 suspected cases in India, The Indian Express form http://indianexpress.com/article/india/blue-whale-challenge-these-are-the-suspected-cases-india-4798745/

[7] The Constitution of India, Universal’s New Delhi, Lexis Nexis, Pg. no. 12

[8] The Constitution of India, Universal’s New Delhi, Lexis Nexis, Pg. no. 10

[9] Liu Huawen YanYuting, September 19,2016, Interpretation of the Concept of the Right to Internet Access from the Perspective of International Law, CSHRS from http://www.chinahumanrights.org/html/2016/MAGAZINES_0919/5655.html


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article or any other publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Sadvidya or its members.

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