Is Access to the Internet a Basic Human Right?

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Image copyright Space-X Imagery, Pixabay

Image copyright Space-X Imagery, Pixabay

The headline caught my eye on CNN a few days ago:

Google, Facebook, SpaceX, OneWeb plan to beam Internet everywhere

Perhaps I paid attention because I’d just seen the movie Aloha on an airplane last weekend. In the movie, Bradley Cooper’s a good guy gone bad who ultimately finds (spoiler alert!) redemption by taking down a big, bad satellite. Cooper’s on to the fact that the well-intentioned piece of technology just actually might not be what its creator promises it is.

So when I spotted that headline at CNN, I dug a bit deeper and watched the accompanying video, an interview with OneWeb’s Greg Wyler. He outlines a $3Billion dollar plan for a squadron of low flying satellites which will orbit the planet and provide “five bars” of Internet connectivity to even the most remote parts of the world. CNN’s article offers SpaceX, Facebook and Google as other well-intentioned technology companies which are looking to make the World Wide Web truly worldwide.

This started me thinking about the various ways in which the Church calls us to be good companions to those in need. In part II of Chapter Three of Laudato Si, Pope Francis looks thoughtfully at “The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm”. Towards his conclusion of that section, he writes

All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur. (114)

Is solid wifi access as fundamental a human right as is clean drinking water or religious liberty? I’d argue no, for now.

But it’s clear that relief agencies such as Catholic Relief Services are effectively bettering the lives of many around the globe by providing them with access to tools such as Farmbook Suite or employing the latest modern communications technology to provide immediate life-saving aid when disasters strike. And even here at home, students who lack access to technology surely have less chance of succeeding in a competitive job market.

It’s hard to remember that fifteen years ago, when this website started, I created it using dial-up and software that came on a floppy disk. As we pray about how to lovingly serve those most in need in our world, I find it hard to ignore the emerging role that access to technology will play in our mission.

A question for you: Is access to the Internet now a fundamental human right?

Copyright 2015 Lisa M. Hendey
Image copyright Space-X Imagery, Pixabay

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

5 Comments

  1. This is so interesting. Just yesterday I learned of a man who created a non-profit to bring internet to public housing. The government has hired him to make the program nationwide. It’s not little roving satellites everywhere, but it’s defintely a step in the right direction to help level the playing field for jobs and education. Great article, thanks!

  2. Fascinating topic, thank you for posing it. To answer, I would first ask- how do you define a “right”? Personally, I am of the opinion that in today’s culture that word is often misused. In the US, we are founded on “unalienable rights” (meaning rights bestowed upon us by God) of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. So I tend to defer back to that kind of unofficial definition- (is it a blessing from God that is essential to our livelihood?) But the answer is still not clear to me personally using that logic. So does access to the internet (and I heard your interview on the Son Rise Morning Show this morning- so I use the term “internet” to mean electronic access to information and software- not entertainment) constitute a right? Well, I personally think we can answer this question, by first asking how important is it? I call your attention to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. (I am not espousing “self-actualization” but I think the prioritizing of resources (time, effort, food, shelter and yes access to information) should be viewed through this filter.) ie. Is access to information ESSENTIAL for stage 1- physiological needs, if not, stage 2 (safety), if not, etc, etc. Once we decide where access to the internet falls in this paradigm, then I would say we can answer if it is a right or not… So I guess I am more concerned about the process as to how we decide the answer to this question- because I believe if the process is true, we will get the answer right! Just my 2 (or 3) cents. Thanks for posing this, very thought provoking, question!

    • Brian – thank you so very much for a fascinating comment! You have definitely helped me to “think through” this issue… as I said with Matt, my jury is still out on this one. But I love your concluding remarks!! Thank you for making the time to comment today.

  3. What an interesting article.

    Is the internet a right? It seems silly, that this technology that has only existed in recent decades should be considered a fundamental part of our humanhood.

    But we have a right to speak. And a right to speak in the public square. To use our voice to address the polity. And the reality is that this public square has very much been used online. And while the hardware of laptops and tablets and phones may be commodities for sale that someone may gift us, but we aren’t entitled to, we may soon come to see the cloud, and the access to the information superhighway the same way we have come to see the airwaves, water, or the environment — as a publicly shared commodity that we all have a right to access, and we all have a responsibility to protect.

    I’ve seen information technology has do immeasurable good in the field of humanitarian assistance and development. It has streamlined and integrated outreach at one end, and empowered the powerless at the other. But it has also made us terribly vulnerable — and vulnerablitiy is something Catholic Social Teaching speaks to deeply, because there is where our human dignity is compromised. And it has changed relate to each other in ways we haven’t been able to anticipate, and faster than we can have our ethical conversations and reach consensus about societal standards.

    (For starters, how does a local community prosper if I’m buying all my commodities online? What is a community without markets — and the conversations and encounters those markets trigger? Or has the global marketplace really created a global community? Is this community here at Catholic Mom better or worse, ethically, than the geographically defined communities of the pre-digital age. And that’s all without dealing with the questions posed by the film referenced here.)

    So I salute Catholic Mom for raising these questions as they come, and I hope we continue to discuss. The reality is that our kids will continue to adapt to and adopt (and reject) new technology faster than we can. It’s always been that way. What we have is the ethical lens and the ancient wisdom to consider this technology through: Who is my neighbor, and does this serve him or her?

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