Vint Cerf: Internet access is not a human right

By Lee Kaelin on January 6, 2012, 1:30 PM

One of the fathers of the internet, Vinton Cerf, widely known for creating the TCP/IP protocol took the opportunity in a recent NYT article to dismiss the idea that the internet is a civil or human right, saying that some people are missing the point entirely.

He argues that use of the internet is not a human right, but is merely a method of communication, and entities such as the United Nations should be concentrating on more fundamental worldwide problems and not on making broadband communications a human right.

"Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself," he writes. "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."

Cerf continued, "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."

There is no doubt that the internet has been instrumental to the protests seen in the Middle East and parts of Northern Africa in the last year. With some governments taking to suppressing the internet in signs of trouble it is understandable that its citizens would want some form of civil or human right attached to its usage.

Cerf believes that the internet is a tool used to enable people to exercise their civil and human rights, as well as provide access to government information. It "is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important." His views contrast with comments made by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee last year.

Ultimately, the internet itself is no more worthy of human rights than the telephone, mobile or even a road. Vint Cerf believes improving the internet is one of many means in which we can improve "human condition." But it is important that it is achieved whilst safeguarding civil and human rights that deserve to be protected, without the illusion that access alone is such a right.




User Comments: 56

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Guest said:

Hard to argue his logic.

H3llion H3llion, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Vinto Cerf, did you invent WWW? No? Wait I didn't hear that, what did you say? NO?!?!?!

THEN STFU

princeton princeton said:

artix said:

Vinto Cerf, did you invent WWW? No? Wait I didn't hear that, what did you say? NO?!?!?!

THEN STFU

Can't tell if trolling or just stupid. I really hope it's trolling.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

artix said:

Vinto Cerf, did you invent WWW? No? Wait I didn't hear that, what did you say? NO?!?!?!

THEN STFU

Just as Tim Berners-Lee didn't invent the Internet, without which the WWW wouldn't have a platform on which to exist, doesn't have any room to speak on the matter either. The logic in Vinton Cerf's statements is very difficult to dispute. The logic (or rather lack of) in your statement, however, was far too easy to dismiss.

Tim Berners-Lee saying that the WWW is a fundamental human right, is like the inventor of submarines saying that everyone has a right to own a submarine in order for transoceanic travel. It's simply ridiculous.

matrix86 matrix86 said:

artix said:

Vinto Cerf, did you invent WWW? No? Wait I didn't hear that, what did you say? NO?!?!?!

THEN STFU

What does that have to do with anything? I'm with this guy. The internet is a tool, not a right. Tools are privileges. Video game consoles, cars...those are tools (privileges) that can be taken away when used incorrectly. The internet is no different. HOWEVER, the internet is freedom of speech, so while I agree that it is not a human right, I do agree that it is a form of free speech that should not be censored (which includes being shut down or taken away).

But here's the interesting thing. Internet providers want it to be a human right, yet they will still shut you down if they catch you downloading illegal content. Now we are back to the internet being a privilege. Wait...what happened to it being a human right? Rights are something you can't take away. So in a way, the internet providers are hypocrites. Ponder on that thought for a while :P

Prosercunus said:

Guest said:

Hard to argue his logic.

Pretty much. I never even knew it would considered as such.

The UN wasting time and money as usual when they should be focusing on hunger and disease.

Surely even if you disagree with myself and believe internet access is a human right you still have to admit that survival is a higher degree of human right and should be focused on solely until you can solve that.

Ghost410 said:

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Cerf. The issue is not about access to a technology. It is about access to information, collaboration, and knowledge. Dismissing the topic because many don't understand the difference is a disservice.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

matrix86 said:

artix said:

Vinto Cerf, did you invent WWW? No? Wait I didn't hear that, what did you say? NO?!?!?!

THEN STFU

What does that have to do with anything? I'm with this guy. The internet is a tool, not a right. Tools are privileges. Video game consoles, cars...those are tools (privileges) that can be taken away when used incorrectly. The internet is no different. HOWEVER, the internet is freedom of speech, so while I agree that it is not a human right, I do agree that it is a form of free speech that should not be censored (which includes being shut down or taken away).

But here's the interesting thing. Internet providers want it to be a human right, yet they will still shut you down if they catch you downloading illegal content. Now we are back to the internet being a privilege. Wait...what happened to it being a human right? Rights are something you can't take away. So in a way, the internet providers are hypocrites. Ponder on that thought for a while :P

+infinity

Guest said:

people are born into this life with the internet, hes an ***** not to think man becomes the machine.....eventually.

Wendig0 Wendig0, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

people are born into this life with the internet, hes an ***** not to think man becomes the machine.....eventually.

Blatant Star Wars reference incoming..... I find your lack of faith in the human race disturbing. Most people are NOT born into this life with the internet. Those are the people that ultimately learn to figure things out for themselves. There is no matrix bud.

amstech amstech, TechSpot Enthusiast, said:

The internet is nothing more then an advanced form of communication. (Well, advanced for us/our species) It's a tool that has a wide range of abilities but is nonetheless a tool.

And the comment about human rights is comical considering that human rights are made up themselves, there is no such thing as a natural/human right.

LNCPapa LNCPapa said:

As I was reading this article all I kept saying over and over was "It's hard to argue with his logic. I think he may be right if there is a right answer."

Guest said:

To put it in Laymans Terms for the evidently less than Knowledgable; The internet is a MEDIUM, like Paper, Pencil, Clay, Cardboard, Canvas. Do you have right to paper? No. Your Right is What information you choose to put on that paper. Like Writing, Typing, Coloring, Doodling etc. Water should be a Human Right, Free or Taxed Access to Electricity, in today's technological age, should be a right. Yet all these things are charged as a service, even though these are essential to the MAJORITY of human life today. These are the things you should be fighting and crying for. Access to food or the means to obtain your food legally should be a right. When the internet becomes as important to human function as these, then it can be considered. As it currently stands, we can, and many do, live without the internet. And quite healthily.

treetops treetops said:

Its not a right like as in what we need to live decent lives like food, water, shelter and good health but a want as in we want all governments to allow their citizens uncensored access to the internet. Id love to see someone in poverty in a third country react if someone ran up to them and was like its ok you dont have to worry anymore all your trouble are over then hands them a kindle notebook and walks away.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

The fact that there is a debate about this is ridiculous. Rights are innate and in inalienable. That means you were born with it and it cannot be taken a way and shouldn't be suppressed. The internet is not apart of our being. It is man made and therefore can be easily taken away, censored and controlled. It is merely a tool we use to communicate (right) and express ourselves(right).

Guest said:

I think having the internet as a "Human Right" is rediculous. There are many countries where the average person doesnt have the ability to afford a computer. Where I agree it gives freedom of speach, its only a freedom in the fact that you are anon and someone would have to work at finding out who you are. If you had to post your full name and address as part of a post im pretty sure that freedom would disappear. As a tool of communication I agree it has opened ppls eyes to new ideas and new ways of thinking. I can remember a day only a few decades ago when you couldnt get 2 laptops sitting next to each other to communicate in any way.

GunsAblazin said:

Sure his logic is true, but the purpose of classifying the internet as a human right is to give people without that luxury the ability to keep up to the rest of the world. The internet is not "merely a method of communication," but access to information. Think about what will happen to the less fortunate when technology takes over and books are no longer printed.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

The fact that there is a debate about this is ridiculous. Rights are innate and in inalienable. That means you were born with it and it cannot be taken a way and shouldn't be suppressed. The internet is not apart of our being. It is man made and therefore can be easily taken away, censored and controlled. It is merely a tool we use to communicate (right) and express ourselves(right).

You are completely wrong. Freedom is a right and it can be taken away, ever heard of slavery... These rights are created to make things better for the people who don't have them, not you ignorant people who take them for granted.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

You are completely wrong. Freedom is a right and it can be taken away, ever heard of slavery... These rights are created to make things better for the people who don't have them, not you ignorant people who take them for granted.

The ability for one exercise their rights can be taken away, not the right itself. I will say it again...it is innate http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innate. One may be in captivity, but that does not mean that they have lost their right to freedom. We are born as autonomous beings; free to think and explore, we may be able to limit one ability to do this, but we cannot stop it. The constitution is only there to ensure that one is not fettered nor loose their ability to exercise their rights.

GunsAblazin said:

Human Rights would not exist without people protecting them. That's the difference between RIGHTS and ABILITIES.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

You are completely wrong. Freedom is a right and it can be taken away, ever heard of slavery... These rights are created to make things better for the people who don't have them, not you ignorant people who take them for granted.

The ability for one exercise their rights can be taken away, not the right itself. I will say it again...it is innate http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innate. One may be in captivity, but that does not mean that they have lost their right to freedom. We are born as autonomous beings; free to think and explore, we may be able to limit one ability to do this, but we cannot stop it. The constitution is only there to ensure that one is not fettered nor loose their ability to exercise their rights.

You are born with abilities not rights, but even those can be taken away even the ability to think.

Staff
Rick Rick, TechSpot Staff, said:

gunsablazin said:

the purpose of classifying the internet as a human right is to give people without that luxury the ability to keep up to the rest of the world.

I get what you're saying, but I think classifying it as a human right will do little to help that cause.

Human rights, often characterized as a broad set of freedoms encompassing movement, expression, thoughts and religion; privacy and security; immunity to torture, discrimination, slavery and cruelty; fair and competent justice etc... are broken by "civilized" countries on a regular basis.

Sad but true.

There is also something sad about the *necessity* to lie to ourselves and eachother in order to elevate the Internet to human right status. One might think that something so valuable to all facets of life could/would propagate without shoe-horning it into society as a human right... definitely a "-1 humanity" moment.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

You are born with abilities not rights, but even those can be taken away even the ability to think.

You were born with a mouth, vocal cord, teeth, tongue, these give you the ability to speak. It is your right to use them to speak. If I am not wrong they were made for this and other reasons. That is their whole purpose. They were made to make noise, and form words. The whole purpose of life is to live not to have the ability to live. The right to life.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

Human Rights would not exist without people protecting them. That's the difference between RIGHTS and ABILITIES.

If they didn't exist what would be there to protect. It is like saying if we couldn't breathe then there would be no air to breathe.

GunsAblazin said:

Rick said:

gunsablazin said:

the purpose of classifying the internet as a human right is to give people without that luxury the ability to keep up to the rest of the world.

I get what you're saying, but I think classifying it as a human right will do little to help that cause.

Human rights, often characterized as a broad set of freedoms encompassing movement, expression, thoughts and religion; privacy and security; immunity to torture, discrimination, slavery and cruelty; fair and competent justice etc... are broken by "civilized" countries on a regular basis.

Sad but true.

There is also something sad about the *necessity* to lie to ourselves and eachother in order to elevate the Internet to human right status. One might think that something so valuable to all facets of life could/would propagate without shoe-horning it into society as a human right... definitely a "-1 humanity" moment.

What about freedom of oppression? Who is protecting the poor and uneducated? All human rights are man made, and the good it will do is only dependent on the effort we put in. We are still fighting against forces which disagree with the rights we have now.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

Human Rights would not exist without people protecting them. That's the difference between RIGHTS and ABILITIES.

If they didn't exist what would be there to protect. It is like saying if we couldn't breathe then there would be no air to breathe.

You are still talking about abilities not rights, some countries don't protect the same rights as the US, so to the people there it doesn't exist. What is existence? Nothing exists 'till it is found or created.

Lionvibez said:

This is a very interesting topic and I find reading about it far more interesting and educational than when the next *ucken phone is coming out. Please post more topics like this!

PinothyJ said:

I have been saying this ever since the stupid idea was announced but unfortunately, I am not someone important like Mr Forefather of the Internet...

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

Human Rights would not exist without people protecting them. That's the difference between RIGHTS and ABILITIES.

If they didn't exist what would be there to protect. It is like saying if we couldn't breathe then there would be no air to breathe.

If rights always existed, why do we have the right to bear arms? That can only exist with the existence of firearms. Just because a right is disputed doesn't mean it shouldn't be a right.

Guest said:

he is stupid or paid to say this.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

If rights always existed, why do we have the right to bear arms? That can only exist with the existence of firearms. Just because a right is disputed doesn't mean it shouldn't be a right.

The right to bear arms falls under personal right. To defend ones self, To protect ones own right to life.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

You are still talking about abilities not rights, some countries don't protect the same rights as the US, so to the people there it doesn't exist. What is existence? Nothing exists 'till it is found or created.

Nothing exists until it is found or created? If a tree falls is forest and no one in a round does it make a sound? This is basically you statement as a question. What you are trying to say is, there is no knowledge of the existence of something until it is discovered. Ignorance of something does not equate to non-existence.

Guest said:

Anyone else think he looks like The Architect from Matrix Revolutions?

Coincidence?? hmmm.......

tw0rld tw0rld said:

I will make a final statement and cal it a day. Human rights are not man-made they are not granted or gifted. You are born with them. They are innate and inalienable. They are yours and yours only. Laws are there only to ensure that your ability to act upon these rights are not hindered.

Good night and God bless.

Guest said:

just as anything that gains popularity when it reaches a certain limit such as how the internet it getting to be more accessible to the the masses the more people will ponder the effects of it. back in the 90's people were promoting the damn thing as the best thing in the world. It's like how linux used to be virus free back in the early 20s but now when it's getting more and more popular people have started make more and more viruses trying to attack it. I think it will come to a point just like anything in the world where a few will be able to by pass the restrictions put on it by lawmakers etc and the masses will just have to cope with what they have been given. it's the way the world has worked from ancient times. how ever civilized we think we are in the end the basic evolutionary thinking kicks in at times of difficulty. sad but true..

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

You are still talking about abilities not rights, some countries don't protect the same rights as the US, so to the people there it doesn't exist. What is existence? Nothing exists 'till it is found or created.

Nothing exists until it is found or created? If a tree falls is forest and no one in a round does it make a sound? This is basically you statement as a question. What you are trying to say is, there is no knowledge of the existence of something until it is discovered. Ignorance of something does not equate to non-existence.

My point is, things are created, like rights to protect against violations of them, not before the violations.

Guest said:

This guy should stick to what he does best - technology. He should leave his US centric lectures on ideology to those better qualified.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

I will make a final statement and cal it a day. Human rights are not man-made they are not granted or gifted. You are born with them. They are innate and inalienable. They are yours and yours only. Laws are there only to ensure that your ability to act upon these rights are not hindered.

Good night and God bless.

Access of information should be a right, period. Maybe not in your world, but in a world where the internet is the most abundant source of that. This country protects many rights innate and not innate, the right to protect oneself does not imply you need a gun to do so.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

My point is, things are created, like rights to protect against violations of them, not before the violations.

I'm sorry. I could not say nothing. why would you create something just to protect it fro being violated. Simple solution do not create it in the first place. Human rights are not created they just are.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

Access of information should be a right, period. Maybe not in your world, but in a world where the internet is the most abundant source of that. This country protects many rights innate and not innate, the right to protect oneself does not imply you need a gun to do so.

We are not merely talking about rights, but Human rights. Do not confused the two. Access to information is not a human right nor a right. It is a privilege. We can extend this privilege to others who do not enjoy it in many ways, that do not involve it being declared a human right.

tw0rld tw0rld said:

This guy should stick to what he does best - technology. He should leave his US centric lectures on ideology to those better qualified.

Not sure if you are referring to me, but I am not a U.S citizen. That is right I hail from another land, currently residing in the U.S. Ideology/beliefs are not limited to national boundaries.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

My point is, things are created, like rights to protect against violations of them, not before the violations.

I'm sorry. I could not say nothing. why would you create something just to protect it fro being violated. Simple solution do not create it in the first place. Human rights are not created they just are.

Create it because this is a society, people violate the rights of others all the time. Like any law it is there as a visible guideline. Some people argue that God wasn't created, he just is, but we have no proof of that. Unwritten rights don't exist just because we will recognize them when we need them.

GunsAblazin said:

tw0rld said:

Access of information should be a right, period. Maybe not in your world, but in a world where the internet is the most abundant source of that. This country protects many rights innate and not innate, the right to protect oneself does not imply you need a gun to do so.

We are not merely talking about rights, but Human rights. Do not confused the two. Access to information is not a human right nor a right. It is a privilege. We can extend this privilege to others who do not enjoy it in many ways, that do not involve it being declared a human right.

Yes the written human rights that the UN recognizes, and many others we don't know of. If owning firearms is a human right I don't see how access to information wouldn't be. I'm not talking private information, but something that is available for the public to see.

hitech0101 said:

He is right millions still starve without food so for internet is kinda out of the question but still for those on the internet it still seems preety worng to deny internet

Twixtea said:

Hmm... I've read almost every comment on this matter, as I find it quite interesting.

If you count Internet as a privilege, because one can live without it, you may aswell count electricity as a privilege, because people before us also did live without it. Like we did before the internet was invented.

You pay for the electricity they give you and for internet aswell.

But there's a huge difference ofcourse.

Today, electricity is used in pretty much every country in the world, and almost ~~+95% of human beings or more are ''used'' to it. So if you take their electricity away, they may be able to continue to live, but like people in the rockages did, obviously.

While for the internet I would assume there are about only ~~50% of human beings which are ''used'' to it, and if you take their internet away, they may be able to continue living, but I'm sure it's a bit hard in the first place. They wouldn't be forced to live like in the rockages but definetly one could call it a ''living a life like decades ago'' where there was no internet.

If I would live 20 years ago, and had no internet, I wouldn't mind.

But today, If I had no internet access, I would buttrape my president, sorry... but thats a fact.

Internet is a technlogy for better, like electricity and unlike nuclear warfare or such you might argue.

I would say in countries like US, or most European countries, you simply can't cut off the internet for the people, MAYBE, and I say maybe, you could do that in third world countries, but If I were the president there, I would not try that.

So In countries like US, and Europe I think it can be called a 'right';.

ikesmasher said:

The internet is not a right, but its increasingly useful and something that everyone should have some kind of access to.

Guest said:

The Internet's significance and importance should make it a right (not a human right, but a right).

Guest said:

The internet may not be a "human right" but any one who is denied access to it is transformed into a second class citizen. No internet? Get to the back of the bus!

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

Sure his logic is true, but the purpose of classifying the internet as a human right is to give people without that luxury the ability to keep up to the rest of the world. The internet is not "merely a method of communication," but access to information. Think about what will happen to the less fortunate when technology takes over and books are no longer printed.

Yeah well, "when books are outlawed, only outlaws will have books"....

Books will eventually no longer be printed, because of imbeciles that think the "Kindle" is actually a book.

This just in; entitlement to information isn't a human right either. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as college tuition, and we'd all get a free PHD.

I just priced internet only with Comcast, for internet only, (cable), and it would be $69.95 @ month. Now, if "I dun had me these kids", there exists the possibility I could get internet for $10.00 a month.

Now, try to picture how sick of people like you railing about social entitlements I really am.

And finally, I absolutely, positively, don't care what happens to the "less fortunate".

The only outcome I'm certain of for the "less fortunate", is that they'll screw as much as they can, as often as they can, as hard as they can, in order to provide us a never ending supply of more, "less fortunates". Either before or after which, many of them will sell their food stamps to buy either crack or heroine.

You are completely wrong. Freedom is a right and it can be taken away, ever heard of slavery... These rights are created to make things better for the people who don't have them, not you ignorant people who take them for granted.

Every time you take to the internet, you type something more profoundly bizarre.

Although, the foregoing statement my be a personal "best" for you.

To put it another way, "WTF on earth does internet access have to do with slavery"?

Guardian31756 said:

Twixtea said:

Internet is a technlogy for better, like electricity and unlike nuclear warfare or such you might argue.

I would say in countries like US, or most European countries, you simply can't cut off the internet for the people, MAYBE, and I say maybe, you could do that in third world countries, but If I were the president there, I would not try that.

So In countries like US, and Europe I think it can be called a 'right';.

Well, I don't know but if you were to introduce something like the internet to people in a Backwards type of a country who didn't know what in God's name your talking about and they took a liking too it and got kind of used to having it around and said I enjoy the freedom of using it and I want more of it but the Government said NOPE, You can't have any more then what we give you,Wouldn't you scream bloody murder if you couldn't get what you wanted to?

I think someone should have SLAPPED you up-side your head for introducing such Technology to that Backwards country and NOT informing them that having such FREEDOM as the internet, it comes with Responsibilities, YOU ABUSE IT, YOU LOSE IT !

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