By: Ashley Berger

As more and more people are connected to and rely upon the Internet for the exchange of information, freedom expression and speech, and access to a variety of personal data and records, the questions surrounding what rights should also be attached to that access to the Internet.  While the Internet is still a relatively new institution in the global economy and society, the amount of people who daily access and utilize it for the aforementioned reasons is vastly growing.  Additionally, the amount of systems and institutions that also depend on access to the Internet is growing.  Where more and more data is stored on the Internet, it follows that cyber security is an important part of the discussion.

The Internet is a place for people in all four corners of the world to share and spread ideas, speech and opinions.  It is also a space that can be hacked into and monitored by unwelcome eyes or the government.  For example, the United Nations has explored its role in the struggle for human rights as it pertains to Internet access. In January of 2017, the government in Cameroon disabled the Internet connections in the predominantly English speaking parts of the country.  In Cameroon, English speakers have historically been discriminated against and marginalized by their French-speaking counterparts. Critics of this decision argue that this violates international law because it suppresses public debate and hinders access to resources and services.  This shutdown comes following the 2015 Joint Declaration of the United Nations that provided network shutdowns would be considered measures that will not be justified under human rights law.  In 2016, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution that also condemned intentional measures to prevent or disrupt access to the Internet.

Since at least 2011, cyber rights have been a discussion in the United Nations.  The Declaration of Human Rights includes protections of freedom, speech, communication and access to information so it follows that these principles apply to the cyber realm as well as the physical space.  The United Nations has affirmed the ideal that the same rights people have offline must also be protected online in various resolutions in 2012, 2013 and 2014.  Specifically, the General Assembly adopted a resolution acknowledging the rapid pace of emerging technologies that is enabling individuals to use these new technologies. The resolution also reaffirms all individuals right to privacy, specifically stating that citizens should be free from unlawful interference as well as calling upon states to ensure this fundamental right and to put in place measures to prevent violations of that right.  It is a common right that individuals have the right to be free from unlawful spying or intrusions to their homes and personal effects, and the United Nations’ recent declaration set forth that this right should extend to an individual’s presence in the cyber world.

The Cameroon example is likely an extreme of what governments could do as a violation of the United Nations principles.  Many countries, including Spain, France and Finland have codified the rights to Internet access.  Moreover, firms worldwide are following protocols set forth by the United Nations to help put structures in place to protect individuals and businesses. While technology itself is not a right, technology is a vehicle via which rights can be exercised and proper security measures must be implemented to ensure the protections for users.

The Internet is a basic part of many individual’s lives, nearly as integral to human life as roads, waste and other basic infrastructures.  Access to the Internet is now normalized and expected, and therefore, rights surrounding Internet usage, access and security should also solidified and enforced.  Instead of authoring new laws, existing laws need to be applied and reinforced to encompass the right to privacy on the Internet and consider cyber security as a fundamental policy in communications.


Student Bio: Ashley Berger is a staff member of the Journal of High Technology Law.  She is currently a 2L at Suffolk University Law School.  Ashley holds a Bachelor of Arts in both Legal Studies and History from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are the views of the author alone and do not represent the views of JHTL or Suffolk University Law School.

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