Having access to the internet is increasingly considered to be an emerging human right. International organizations and national governments have begun to formally recognize its importance to freedom of speech, expression and information exchange. The next step to help ensure some measure of cyber peace online may be for cybersecurity to be recognized as a human right, too.
The United Nations has taken note of the crucial role of internet connectivity in “the struggle for human rights.” United Nations officials have decried the actions of governments cutting off internet access as denying their citizens’ rights to free expression.
But access is not enough. Those of us who have regular internet access often suffer from cyber-fatigue: We’re all simultaneously expecting our data to be hacked at any moment and feeling powerless to prevent it. Late last year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online rights advocacy group, called for technology companies to “unite in defense of users,” securing their systems against intrusion by hackers as well as government surveillance.
It’s time to rethink how we understand the cybersecurity of digital communications. One of the U.N.‘s leading champions of free expression, international law expert David Kaye, in 2015 called for “the encryption of private communications to be made a standard.” These and other developments in the international and business communities are signaling what could be early phases of declaring cybersecurity to be a human right that governments, companies and individuals should work to protect.
Is internet access a right?
The idea of internet access as a human right is not without controversy. No less an authority than Vinton Cerf, a “father of the internet,” has argued that technology itself is not a right, but a means through which rights can be exercised.
All the same, more and more nations have declared their citizens’ right to internet access. Spain, France, Finland, Costa Rica, Estonia and Greece have codified this right in a variety of ways, including in their constitutions, laws and judicial rulings.
A former head of the U.N.‘s global telecommunications governing body has argued that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water.” Global public opinion seems to overwhelmingly agree.
Cerf’s argument may, in fact, strengthen the case for cybersecurity as a human right – ensuring that technology enables people to exercise their rights to privacy and free communication.