Cerf ans Internet access
In a short article in the NYT (jan 4th 2012), Vint Cerf criticizes the idea that access to internet should be declared a human right.
He doesn’t agree with the opinion of the United Nations special rapporteur on this idea, even if some countries like France are supporting it. He argues that “technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself ” and he asks that the means to an end not be confused with the end.
I would like to support Vincent Cerf’s comments and make it a plea not to confuse technology with humanity, so as to remain people-centered as a civil society community. I understand the need to bridge the digital divide and to ensure that ICT-driven media foster equality and solidarity. But, the real human rights behind access to internet already exist, and they are related to freedom of expression and freedom of diffusion, as well as right to dignity, equality, privacy, education and participation (among the most important). Access per se doesn’t make sense, because it is too easily confused and confined to technological hook-up: access is also about understanding quality content, using it and eventually producing it (which requires education, expression…). It doesn’t mean that we can’t battle to ask for cheaper, open, interoperable access to broadband but it has to be seen as an enhancer of rights and not be confused as a right in itself. I would rather plea for a broader information and communication rights package that supports individual and collective creativity as well as pluralism of ideas.
What we need to engage in, when dealing with this issue in multi-stakeholder perspective is to ensure that the engineering community is ethically minded and considers those human rights in the early design process of ICTs, not as post-production gimmick under the form of opaque guidelines for indiscrimate users. We need to ensure that human rights applied to ICT-driven media maintain their capacity to evolve for the benefit of people and we need to keep concentrating on relevant international instruments to ensure just that. As such we cannot let the technical community focus our attention on a single aspect of the package that happens to play in favour of the commercial expansion of proprietary infrastructures. Let’s keep our attention focused on open software, public value, information commons, net neutrality and interoperability. This should empower people to prevent fragmentation of the networks, privatisation and monopolistic property, unwarranted surveillance, and threats on freedom of expression and dignity.
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