In 2012, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations determined that a connection to the internet is a human right. Among other things, the resolution encourages nations without widespread internet coverage to improve access for all citizens. The resolution also condemns any attempt to impede free speech online. The resolution was updated and unanimously adopted again in 2014 and then again in 2016, demonstrating that all members of the Council recognize the importance of free access to information and the right to freedom of expression online.
Though the resolution doesn’t specifically address net neutrality, it does condemn the practice of disrupting or preventing internet access. Net neutrality is an important aspect of online communications and should also be considered a human right.
What is Net Neutrality?
The internet is a platform based on the free and open exchange of information. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers, governments and other entities providing or monitoring internet access must treat all data the same, without regard to the user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment or mode of communication.
Without a guarantee of neutrality, service providers can restrict certain websites, slow streaming speed for video services and funnel customers to sites they control versus their competitor’s sites.
Threats to Net Neutrality
Just as there are efforts to block other forms of free speech, there are many financial and political incentives for governments and corporations around the world to restrict the freedom of the internet.
ISPs Selling Data
The President of the United States recently approved a resolution that allows internet service providers to collect and sell customer data without the customer’s permission. In this case, the government and internet service providers are working together to invade the privacy of internet users.
In countries such as China and North Korea, the governments have strict control over much of what their citizens can access on the internet. Some reports indicate the governments of those countries must approve all content their citizens are allowed to access through their internet service providers.
Pakistan has enacted several laws that were supposed to target libel and online harassment. In reality, those laws have been used to prosecute citizens who criticized the government on various online forums or social media accounts.
These are just a few examples of the many ongoing threats to net neutrality that exist around the world today.
Net neutrality is not a given in most parts of the world, even in countries such as the United States, where freedom of expression is supposed to be protected. Depending on where you are in the world, your internet activity could be tracked and monitored by your service provider or even the government. Until such a time that net neutrality is recognized as an essential right, it’s important to know how to protect yourself. One easy way to protect yourself online is to use a proxy software service to access the internet. These services encrypt your data, making it more difficult for your online movements to be tracked or monitored.
Supporting Net Neutrality
Even though there are ever-evolving threats to a neutral and open internet, there is a growing movement of activists and corporations who support the idea of an open internet and are working to make net neutrality a reality. Companies such as Netflix, Etsy, Vimeo, Twitter, Reddit, Amazon, Google and Facebook all support net neutrality.
In addition to the corporations advocating for a free and open internet, there are many organizations that are supporting the fight for net neutrality around the world.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
- Global Net Neutrality Coalition
- Fight for the Future
- Save the Internet
If you are passionate about net neutrality, you can get involved in the fight by supporting one or more of these organizations. They will keep you informed of any threats to net neutrality and offer ways to combat new and ongoing threats to an open internet.
Though a user might have internet access, if that person can’t use that access freely because of internet service provider or governmental restrictions, then an essential piece of his or her right to information access is missing. As the UN Human Rights Council has noted, access to the internet is a human right which should include unrestricted access without any third-party interference. And that’s what net neutrality is all about.
About the Author: Sandra O'Hare is a freelance writer. Her areas of expertise include internet security, politics, global governments and technology. She is a frequent contributor to The Right Side of Truth.