Martin Cothran, the bigoted, anti-semite defending, Holocaust-denial whitewashing, misogynistic, homophobic, creationist, authoritarian, logic-impaired mouthpiece for the Kentucky theocracy movement wonders Is Internet access a human right?:
In what sense is Internet access as a “right”?
I listened to this week to an interview on NPR in which a guest–some expert on the Internet–was telling the NPR interviewer that Internet access is a “right”–not just any right but a “basic human right.”
This is the sort of incisive reporting we read Cothran for. “Some expert” said something or other, and he can’t be bothered to locate the name of the expert by searching the NPR schedule, so we can’t know the context of the comment, but he’s peeved and geared up for a rant:
This is just one example of the rhetorical inflation we have seen when it comes to rights language. What does it mean to say that Internet access a right? What is a right? And what is a human right?
It can only mean one of two things to say that something is a right. A right is either legal or metaphysical. If it is legal, then there ought to be some kind basis for it in a written statute or in some kind of case law. If it is a metaphysical right, then it ought to have some kind of rational or revelatory basis.
First, assuming there is some sort of “inflation” of “rights language” (“rhetorical” or otherwise). Is that so bad? Is the suggestion that people have too many rights?
He then insists it must be metaphysical because it’s possible to argue against some laws as conflicting with metaphysically granted rights (whatever that means), and then he doesn’t really say how he’d assess that case.
I’d start with legal rights, rather than metaphysical ones, because how do you test whether something is a metaphysical right? One of the rights protected in the US’s Bill of Rights is a protection of “freedom of the press.” The founders thought that was kind of important, and lots of other countries borrowed that concept, sometimes even that phrase, as they created democratic constitutions in the 20th century.
You could, I suppose, argue that the founders literally meant freedom to operate printing presses, which would shock reporters on NPR, other radio stations, and of course TV. You could argue that the press in question was meant to be a staid and polite professional media, not rabblerousing shitstirrers like you find on the internet today. But you’d find that the presses of the founders’ America were often used to print the most scurrilous and heinous material. Thinly-sourced allegations of infidelity, printed anonymously in pamphlet form and slipped under doors. The newspapers of the day were partisan to a degree that even Fox News or Rush Limbaugh couldn’t hold a candle to today. Short of LOLcats (perhaps), I suspect you could find just about everything currently circulating on the internet being printed in the print shops of the infant United States.
Now I’m guessing that the expert Cothran heard was not just talking about the US. I’m guessing it was in the context of Egypt (a topic he hasn’t addressed otherwise, perhaps because he’s ambivalent about the protesters’ talk about all these new rights they want, like free and fair elections, and an end to torture). The US Constitution doesn’t apply in Egypt, and while many nations have adopted some version of the first amendment into their own constitutions, Egyptian law allows the government to shut down the nation’s internet access, and indeed to send spoofed text messages to the nation’s cell phones. To see whether the state violated its people’s rights, we’d want some sort of universal declaration of human rights.
Conveniently for us, the UN crafted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II, and it was approved without objections by the UN General Assembly in 1948. Egypt voted for it then. The right to a free press is enshrined in it, as well, with Article 19 stating:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
“Through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Surely that includes the internet. Surely the “right to seek, receive, and impart information” covers much that the internet does.
Though the Declaration is, like the US’s Declaration of Independence, not a law itself, it exists to set out the rights that the community of nations agreed to be universal. It also serves as a legal definition of the concepts “fundamental freedoms” and “human rights” that the UN Charter seeks to protect. It is part of customary international law. This right is also part of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”), which Egypt and the United States have both ratified.
Secretary of State Clinton spoke to this issue last year, in a speech kicking off a major internet freedom initiative. All her comments seem relevant, but especially this:
The final freedom, one that was probably inherent in what both President and Mrs. Roosevelt thought about and wrote about all those years ago, is one that flows from the four Iâve already mentioned: the freedom to connect â the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once youâre on the internet, you donât need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.
The overarching right is a right to participate freely in society, especially in politics, but in politics construed broadly. It is this right that the United States was defending when the State Department’s public affairs chief tweeted: “We are concerned that communication services, including the Internet, social media and even this #tweet, are being blocked in #Egypt,” and when he insisted “Events unfolding in Egypt are of deep concern. Fundamental rights must be respected, violence avoided and open communications allowed.”
What about that could Cothran dispute?