The internet is now the most powerful source of knowledge and enlightenment. While there appears to be no express right of general application to ‘access the Internet’ stipulated in any of the major international human rights instruments, it has been argued at the international level that such access is critical, particularly in terms of the right to freedom of expression, and in the redressing of structural disadvantages. Accordingly a number of countries have, in varying forms, formally recognised human rights to access the Internet.
The Internet has revolutionised the way people interact and exercise their freedom of expression and information and other related fundamental rights. When the World Wide Web was first developed in 1990s, it transformed internet from a technological infrastructure into a popular network linking people in diverse communities throughout the world. The ready availability of information on every conceivable subject, combined with advancements in digitisation, has made the Internet a revolutionary tool.
A poll for the BBC World Service suggested that almost four in five people around the world believed that access to the internet is a fundamental right. The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide. In a survey by Centre for International Governance Innovation and conducted by global research company Ipsos, it was found that an overwhelming majority of internet users around the world-83 per cent-believe that affordable access to the Internet should be considered a human right.
Frank La Rue, a special rapporteur to United Nations (UN), has said that internet access is a Human Right. La Rue noted that in some countries where internet access is widely available, online content may be heavily restricted. In other countries, where online content is not restricted, internet may not be accessible to majority of the population.
Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist credited with inventing the worldwide web, has also said that the internet should be seen as a basic human right. That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of web users regardless of where they live.