Thursday, January 05, 2012

The web: More than an enabler of rights

Vint Cerf’s assertion that the internet should not be considered a human right troubles me.

It  troubles me because it seems to be on the wrong side of fiddling with semantics – I don’t really care if the web is only an enabler (Vint’s point) – it’s such an effective, inclusive, far-reaching, all-engaging enabler that those excluded from it are as cut off from what matters to them as those cut off from air or water.

Access to clean air, clean water – these are human rights. And always have been.

But if the authorities only make that available to you in oxygen tanks in central London and bottled water at your local depot (and both at a price) you’d be right to assert that the weakness of the enabling of these rights so limits them as to make them invalid.

To argue that one can distinguish the enabling of a right from the right itself offers too many get-out clauses to those who would control from the centre.

"You're perfectly free to protest. Just not in public."

Our social connection to others – freedom of expression and assembly, are just as fundamental to our well-being as humans as other rights; to our ability to be human. The internet enables this on a species-wide scale. No other form of tech has enabled this. This is different.

To be cut off from this is different. It is to be cut off from a species-wide reassembling of the way we live that billions of others are taking advantage of. You have a right to be part of this.

And while the technology used to enable this should not matter, the reality is that it does. Indeed in the case of the Arab Spring it could be argued that the use of the ‘enabler’ (the social  tools and tech of mobile phones and social networks supported by the internet) led to the assertion of new human rights where previously they had not be allowed any form of expression. The Arab Spring is not where this ends. It is merely showing which way the wind is blowing - to a self-organised future in which participation is everything.

There is little point in saying we all have the right to participate and then expecting some to do this by sending a letter in the post.

When authorities attempt to control the enabler that the web is, they are actually restricting the right. They know this. It is why they do it.

Let’s not give them any wriggle room.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?