When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776 he declared that all men had an “unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”
But if the world wide web had been around back then, chances are Jefferson might have googled “egalitarianism.” And he could have concluded that “internet access” is a basic human right, given its potential to provide higher levels of education, wealth, well being, and well – happiness.
Did our founding fathers have the internet in mind when they designed the US Constitution to be a “living document” that could be amended to adapt to the needs of future generations? Not likely. But if Jefferson and his pals were alive today, perhaps they would consider access to internet a basic human right.
The Digital Divide. The gap between the internet haves and have nots is huge. Those developed, industrialized nations that have the wealth, adequate telecommunications structure, literacy/education and ability to access the internet have a higher standard of living than those without.
Even within a country like the United States several social factors, like age, income, education and even race divide the internet haves and have not. Those who are wealthy enough to afford internet access, have a distinct advantage over those who cannot afford it. These individuals have access to information, knowledge and jobs that those without internet do not.
The internet also provides an outlet for freedom of expression, that is a hallmark of a true democracy. So not only does the user have access to information, but they have a voice in society that can be expressed through social networking sites and blogs. On the internet anyone can participate in democracy and can become true digital citizens.
So is internet access a basic human right? Perhaps. If it is, what can we do about it?
That’s a head scratcher!
Well, for starters, we can make the internet accessible to everyone. Many towns offer free wifi. Most libraries offer basic civic internet service already. But not everyone can get there. How about those with disabilities? Don’t they have a right to internet access? And for those who have a fear of technology or resist participating as a personal choice, we can also improve understanding of the benefits of the internet, by improving education and training.
In the international community, the challenge is much greater. How do you bring internet to the far reaches of the globe? Is it even possible? Do they even want it? For developing nations, perhaps the United Nations could help sponsor programs for infrastructure.
There are independent sources as well. Like the One Laptop per Child organization (one.laptop.org). Its aim is to bring computer literacy to children in underdeveloped nations by providing. low power, low-cost computers. OLPC has received praise and even criticism from officials in some countries who feel other basic needs should come first.
Politicians often say, “there’s more that unites us than divides us.” Perhaps we can unite behind a basic human right to information and participation via the internet, and close the digital divide.
I think Mr. Jefferson would be proud.