World Wide Web inventor: Internet access is now a human right

By on April 13, 2011, 11:33 AM
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee is credited with inventing the World Wide Web, making the first proposal for it in March 1989. More than two decades later, he says humans have become so reliant on the Internet, that access to it should now be considered a basic right. In a speech at the MIT symposium on "Computation and the Transformation of Practically Everything", Berners-Lee said that both access to the Web and access to water should be human rights. Although the latter is a more fundamental right, because people simply cannot survive without it, he argued that anyone who lacks the former will fall behind their more connected peers.

"Access to the Web is now a human right," Berners-Lee said according to NetworkWorld. "It's possible to live without the Web. It's not possible to live without water. But if you've got water, then the difference between somebody who is connected to the Web and is part of the information society, and someone who (is not) is growing bigger and bigger."

He also emphasized the importance of making sure the Web does not to become a tool for spreading unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories. One of his goals is to make the Web more useful for scientists to share data and information.

Berners-Lee also compared the Web to the human brain, saying the Web has grown so large that the number of Web pages rivals the number of neurons in one's brain, and as such, the Web must be analyzed, just as we analyze the brain. "To a certain extent, we have a duty about the Web which is greater than our duty about the brain, because with the brain we just analyze it," he said. "But with the Web, we actually get to engineer it. We can change it."

Berners-Lee's comparisons of the World Wide Web to water and the brain are a little extreme, but at the same time, we think the importance of the Internet should never be downplayed. We would argue that the Web is the most important invention in recent history.

User Comments: 27

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Guest said:

I thought Al Gore invented the Internet...

Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

Guest said:

I thought Al Gore invented the Internet...

Then you have no critical thinking skills. I'll let snopes do the thinking for you:

Internet access is definitely NOT a human right. It is silly people keep saying this. Rather, the Internet is a tool to uphold those rights (various freedoms, the dignity and worth of a person etc...). Still, that doesn't make it a human right.

For example, owning a gun is not a universal human right -- it's an American constitutional right -- but not a human right. Guns CAN BE tools to uphold human rights and this is why it is written into U.S law.

Should everyone have access to the Internet? Sure. Should it be treated like freedom of speech or the continuance of your human dignity? No, especially not yet. Centuries into the future a global network may be impossible to live without and thus become some sort of human right, but for now, no.

yRaz yRaz said:

@Rick, I have to disagree. The internet has become such a big part of how we interact with each other that people who don't have it seem lost. People who don't have internet seem very disconnected from society. I think that it should be a right, at least it should be now. I can see as few as 2-3 years ago that it couldn't be considered a right. But today so much of how we interact with each other has to do with social networking and online games. That argument could have been made a few years ago, but as of today, I feel that the internet is such an integral part of our society that everyone should have access to it in some form. It could be as simple as free dial up, but everyone should be able to use it.

Guest said:

Having the internet isn't a human right. Are you kidding me. Last time i checked people surived before without it. Sure i do believe tho it will almost be a human right to have access to it. But not now.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well in that case let's give access to all the prison inmates.

Sorry, Sir Timmy, internet access is not a human right. For such a smart guy, you sure do lack basic common sense.

dedparrot said:

the internet is a privilege, not a right.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

dedparrot said:

the internet is a privilege, not a right.

Exactly. People have been driving cars over 100 years, and that is still a privilege, not a right. Why should the internet be any different?

Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

yRaz said:

I think that it should be a right, at least it should be now.

As a *legal* right, I can agree with you but as a *human* right, I don't see it.

There's a distinction there and perhaps it's pedantic, but I think you and I probably see more closely than you might have noticed.

I believe the "right to bear arms" is a perfect analogy. Anymore, the "right to bear Internet" is probably even more relevant than firearms... But the 'right to bear arms' is not a human right. Arms is a legal right. The right for Internet access should be looked at in the same way.

Legal rights ensure human rights are upheld. Internet access is not (and really shouldn't be considered) a human right, but it *is* a tool to maintain and uphold those very important human rights.

Guest said:

@yRaz I have to dissagree with you... can you live without the internet and online games and such? Yes. Can you live without water? NO. I'm going to have to agree with Rick.

Relic Relic, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Rick is spot on, the internet should be a legal right for all, but a human right is simply far-fetched. Sir Timothy should be focusing on the increased threat of censorship from governments and corporations over the internet. It won't matter if access is a human right if we can't communicate about important issues because their banned.

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Internet shouldn't be a human right. Last I checked electricity wasn't a human right - and its more important IMO than internet access.

Wagan8r Wagan8r said:

I have to also concur with Rick, who said it very well. Internet access is not a human right. Your fundamental human existence is not jeopardized by the lack of Internet access.

The more important question is whether it should be a legal right. This is as ridiculous an idea as saying that it should be a legal right for everyone to have electricity, plumbing, food, clothes, etc., etc, all of which are directly affected by one's actions or lack of action.

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

dedparrot said:

the internet is a privilege, not a right.

Having the vote was once a privilage held by only a select few...Now it's considered a right.

Boundries change along with the times....and in the more technological world that we're living in..Maybe the internet should get a closer look.

I don't agree that it should be considered a human right just yet though...Maybe a right to access, yeah.

ramonsterns said:

A connection to the internet is a privilege. Access to it should be a right. You shouldn't get a connection and a computer for free, but you shouldn't be denied access to it.

treetops treetops said:

lets worry about people not starving first?


Hahahaha... wow, pretty stupid. It's not a right. Seriously who thinks of this stuff?

PinothyJ said:

He couldn't be further from the truth...

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Some perspective:


Some points: Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhea.

IMO being able to take a shit and wash your hands afterwards is a fundamental human right.

But growing virtual corn is a close second.

I get what he's saying, but he can spare us his noblesse oblige. It just makes him sound like a ****.

Guest said:

Human right? Get f'n real Timmy. If the frikkin internet was a human right, then it would be free and whose frikkin government is gonna foot the bill? The good ol US of A keeps talkin **** about cutting the elderly populations Medicare benefits, you really think that they will foot the bill for a nationwide "human right". Comcast and all the rest of the players will never give away their service for free.The damn internet is great!! The damn internet is also the source for so much bs that it's almost a joke. Everyone should have access, if they choose, but that doesn't even fall into the category of a human right. I have been on the internet since the early 90's and honestly, some days I set and just stare blankly at my monitor and can't think of a damn thing I want to look for or do on the internet. So I exercise my human right of free choice and turn the damn thing off. Timmy you're a dillusional fellow.

QuaZulu QuaZulu said:

Nonsense! I agree with the majority here who feel it is definitely not a right. It is nice to have. It is extremely useful. It is not a right. I live in southern Africa where the vast majority of people do not have internet access and do not feel the slight. Food, water, and shelter are their concerns. Compared to those, the "wonders" of the internet pale by far. In fact, they don't even make the top 100 on the wishlist of people here.

Guest said:

QuaZulu<> Well said.

Lokalaskurar Lokalaskurar said:

wagan8r said:

I have to also concur with Rick, who said it very well. Internet access is not a human right. Your fundamental human existence is not jeopardized by the lack of Internet access.

Your fundamental human existence is neither threatened by the amount of days you have to get another job. Employment-security is a part of the human rights, even if you behave like a donkey at work, employment-security claims that the employer must behave/perform in a certain way before firing you (among other things/rules).

(By "you", I don't mean wagan8r in particular. I'm not trying to piss anybody off.)

The right to communicate is a human right. One is as a human entitled to speak. Using the Internet, we can do much more than speak. And I actually support the idea of making the Internet *a part* of the human rights of communication, as it's basically a fundamental privilege.

In itself, I don't think that Internet-penetration should be a human right. But I strongly support the idea of integrating Internet-penetration as a part of the rights of communication. Even prisoners have the right to speak, you know.

TeamworkGuy2 said:

dedparrot said:

the internet is a privilege, not a right.

Exactly, I could not word it better myself.

Guest said:

The ability to trade is a human right, the right to freedom is a human right. The internet to us may seem like a privilege but to many in second and third world countries, is out of the question. Please remember the power that is the internet; a resource of knowledge, communication, entertainment, commerce, etc. With it, many problems can be solved. Today it is essential for buisness, government, educational and personal life. It definitely should be a human right for third world countries, without a doubt, so why not here?

Guest said:

Your existence is threatened if you dont have a job.

stewi0001 stewi0001 said:

To sum up the majority's opinion on this, as well as mine, in economic terminology: The internet is a Luxury not a necessity.

Guest said:

Most people in my pooh hole of a country is more worried about putting food on the table than using the Internet.

The world has greater needs than some dumb bottom network full of stolen media and porn.

The world needs to "unplug" from the Internet monster and deal with reality.

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