L’accesso a Internet è un diritto umano?

Questo articolo, scritto da Vinton G. Cerf (pioniere di Internet, membro dell’IEEE – Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers – e vice-presidente di Google) e pubblicato sul New York Times del 4 gennaio 2012, è stato criticatissimo senza che nessuno si sia preso la briga di leggerlo.

Anche se le argomentazioni di Cerf non mi sembrano del tutto convincenti, sono però logiche e comunque degne di rispetto. Per questo lo riproduco integralmente e ve ne raccomando la lettura.

Internet Access Is Not a Human Right – NYTimes.com

FROM the streets of Tunis to Tahrir Square and beyond, protests around the world last year were built on the Internet and the many devices that interact with it. Though the demonstrations thrived because thousands of people turned out to participate, they could never have happened as they did without the ability that the Internet offers to communicate, organize and publicize everywhere, instantaneously.

It is no surprise, then, that the protests have raised questions about whether Internet access is or should be a civil or human right. The issue is particularly acute in countries whose governments clamped down on Internet access in an attempt to quell the protesters. In June, citing the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, a report by the United Nations’ special rapporteur went so far as to declare that the Internet had “become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights.” Over the past few years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced Internet access a human right.

But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience. It is a mistake to place any particular technology in this exalted category, since over time we will end up valuing the wrong things. For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.

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.

What about the claim that Internet access is or should be a civil right? The same reasoning above can be applied here — Internet access is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important — though the argument that it is a civil right is, I concede, a stronger one than that it is a human right. Civil rights, after all, are different from human rights because they are conferred upon us by law, not intrinsic to us as human beings.

While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right” to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now broadband Internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.

Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously accessible and egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a global scale. As a result, we have new ways to allow people to exercise their human and civil rights.

In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers. Technologists should work toward this end.

While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right” to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now broadband Internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.

Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously accessible and egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a global scale. As a result, we have new ways to allow people to exercise their human and civil rights.

In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers. Technologists should work toward this end.

Il rapporto dell’ONU, pubblicato il 16 maggio 2011, lo trovate qui nella sua versione integrale.

Qui invece un’opinione opposta a quella di Cerf (che, ahimè, a me pare ancora meno convincente, fondamentalmente perché è basato su un argomento storico, e non su un argomento logico) scritta da Clay Johnson su Information Diet il 6 gennaio 2011.

Information Diet | Why Horses Are Not in the Constitution

Neither the word “gun” nor “rifle” appear in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or Federalist Papers nor does the word “newspaper” or “web site.” But guns, rifles, newspapers and yes, websites are vital for the health of our nation. Of course, it does mention the words “press” in the first amendment to the constitution, and the word “arms” in the second, and those are the things that give us the right to have our guns, rifles, newspapers and websites.

That, to me, seems to be the conclusion of Vint Cerf’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday — that we shouldn’t tie a particular technology with fundamental rights. Unfortunately he used a particularly bad example to demonstrate this:

At one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it.

The reason this example is bad is because it conflates a right with an entitlement with a requirement. Cerf is also given the right to bear arms, but he is neither required to own a gun, nor is gun industry compelled to give him one. These are, of course, the differences between rights, requirements, and entitlements.

But one underlying thing that Cerf misses, is how vital universal network access is to civilization and democracy. When we look at the history of information technology, we often talk about language, stone tablets, papyrus, and the printing press, but in the middle there is the function of the Post, invented by Cyrus the Great to create the largest empire the world had ever seen, in about 500 BC. Since then, every thriving civilization has had a strong and universal network at its underpinnings.

While the word “network” in the scope of being an interconnected group of people until our grandparent’s generation, our framers were deeply committed to the idea that there should be “a network” and that everybody should have access to it. The right to assemble, of course, assures it, but it goes further than that. Look at what James Madison had to say about Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, giving Congress the power of the post:

“The power of establishing post roads must, in every view, be a harmless power, and may, perhaps, by judicious management, become productive of great public conveniency. Nothing which tends to facilitate the intercourse between the States can be deemed unworthy of the public care.”

Inscribed above the Postal Museum is this quote as well:

“The Post Office Department, in its ceaseless labors, pervades every channel of commerce and every theatre of human enterprise, and while visiting, as it does kindly every fireside, mingles with the throbbings of almost every heart in the land. In the amplitude of its beneficence, it ministers to all climes and creeds and pursuits with the same eager readiness and with equal fullness of fidelity. It is the delicate ear trump through which alike nations and families and isolated individuals whisper their joys and their sorrows, their convictions and their sympathies to all who listen for their coming.”

Indeed, the United States Postal Service is one of the few government agencies required by the United States Constitution. Just as our framers knew not to require every person to have a horse, but to build instead a document that could last through centuries of rapid technical advancement, I deeply suspect that if Vint Cerf — upon sailing west and deciding with his colleagues to found a new country — would not write a constitution giving Congress the authority to develop post roads without first giving it the authority to lay fiber. Who, knowing of today’s technology when starting a country, would invest in yesterday’s?

This country was founded upon the principles of universal access to a network. It’s been vital to the underpinnings of commerce and democracy, and while “access to the Internet” may not specifically be a human right, connection to the network of citizens has been a civil right that’s been vital to our democracy since the very beginning.

The New Post Office Building

By Richard E. Miller, October 23, 2011

Una Risposta to “L’accesso a Internet è un diritto umano?”

  1. Morgaine Says:

    Sono d’accordo con Cerf: uno strumento tecnico non può essere un diritto; e l’idea di Johnsin che la posta sia la metafora di una rete e sia un diritto da scrivere nella costituzione mi pare risibile


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