A recent United Nations Human Rights Council report examined the important question of whether internet access is a human right.
Whilst the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.
But not everyone agrees with the United Nations’ conclusion. Vinton Cerf, a so-called “father of the internet” and a Vice-President at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:
The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring Internet access a human right, acknowledged that the Internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
See also the excellent post by Paul Barnal:
First of all, and perhaps most importantly, I didn’t like the headline, which stated baldly and boldly that ‘Internet Access is not a Human Right’.