Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Being interested in human rights and in most things Internet, when I came across the NYT op-ed piece, “Internet Access is Not a Human Right” by Vinton Cerf, I was intrigued. I have to admit I initially had a mixed reaction to it: Mr. Cerf’s arguments are good and points well-taken. But my thoughts and feelings got much clearer when I reached the statements: “The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information ‚ and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time.”

Then Mr. Cerf goes on to say that,” engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers. Technologists should work toward this end. It is engineers ‚ and our professional associations and standards-setting bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers ‚ that create and maintain these new capabilities. As we seek to advance the state of the art in technology and its use in society, we must be conscious of our civil responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise.”

And that brought me full circle to what I’ve always regarded as the mission (sacred trust, actually) of we librarians: our obligation to ensure the freedom of access to information — as much as we can. So my answer to my own question in the context of today, is: yep, I think Internet access is a human right — as long as the Internet is the common means of distributing and receiving information.

What do you think?

More as it happens or as I think about it,

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.