While it may seem totally revolutionary, the Internet is doing what media has always done. Like the printing press before it, the Internet makes information easier to store, access, and own. It’s just an upgraded version of books and newspapers, really. But that idea scares a lot of people, and throughout the world there are individuals, and governments, that feel Internet access not only can, but should, be limited to people they deem worthy or safe enough to have that access.
The United Nations Human Rights Council disagrees, and has declared that Internet access shouldn’t be disrupted by governments or their agencies. It didn’t outright declare Internet access a human right, but it’s a step in that direction. Doing so would imply that things like intentional slowdowns and other tactics used by internet service providers to limit access in order to make more money would be a violation of human rights as well.
But this is a step in the right direction, and the UNHRC maintains that people should have the same rights online as they do offline. They also pointed out that there are still a number of divides in access, even if they’re not built in by governments. Differences in access can crop up along gender, racial, age, or class lines–which means that Internet access is still treated as a privilege and not a right in many countries.
Unfortunately, the statement is non-binding, so countries can’t be punished for denying access. It also didn’t pass unanimously. Although a majority of U.N. member states did vote for the statement, some (notably China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia) voted against the statement.