Human Rights in the Digital Era

Internet Access as a Human Right

Dariusz Kloza from Vrije Universiteit Brussel presents a paper on internet access, co-authored with Professor Paul De Hert (VUB)

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“Internet Access as a Human Right: What Does it Exactly Mean?” – Professor Paul de Hert & Dariusz Kloza  (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

The recent (May 2011) UN Human Rights Council‘s report on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has heated the worldwide debate on the Internet access as human right. Having underlined the role of the Internet in exercising these rights, the Special Rapporteur, Frank La Rue, wrote: “ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States” (§85). The report also acknowledges its two dimensions: (1) access to the content, and (2) access to the physical and technical infrastructure required to access the Internet. A few countries already have undertaken some steps in ensuring the universal Internet access. Some jurisdictions consider the Internet access as a universal service. This is a case for Estonia (Art. Art. 5(2) of Telecommunications Act of 2000), Finland (Sec. 60(C), Communications Market Act of 2003) and Spain (Art. 52, Sustainable Economy Act of 2011). Moreover, both Finland and Spain have set the minimum rate of a functional Internet access as a universal service at 1 Mbit/s. However, a number of countries have given some kind of constitutional protection to the Internet access. In 2001, the Greek constitution has been amended to add a provision stating that “all persons have the right to participate in the Information Society” (Art. 5a(2)). In June 2009, the French Constitutional Council declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right by stating that freedom of expression “implies freedom to access” public on-­‐linecommunication services (§ 12, Decision No. 2009-­‐580). The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica is reported to have reached a similar verdict in 2010(§5, Decision No. 09-­‐013141-­‐0007-­‐CO). These developments are much in line with the public opinion. A March 2010 survey for BBC suggested that almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the Internet is a fundamental right. But nowadays the debate on the Internet access as a human right meets the discussion on the net neutrality, graduated response (“three strikes”), privacy concerns or blocking certain types of content, among others. It is now clearly seen that these legal bases vary considerably. In this paper, we would like to comparatively analyse: (1) how these countries ensure the universal access to the Internet, (2) why they do so, (3) whether the Internet access constitutes a right, and if so, (4) how such a right is protected, and (5) whether any limitations are possible

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