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Editorial

Internet a human right?

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We have all come to understand the power of 140 characters.

But a recent report by the United Nations may be adding a new twist to what social media, via the Internet, means to societies.

Titled the "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression," it declares that Internet access falls under freedom of expression.

"The unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only [enables] individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole."

The web, argues UN special rapporteur Frank La Rue, is too important a tool in asserting other human rights for people to be denied its use.

"Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all states."

Reading this might naturally lead us to recall the Arab Spring and the role that the Internet and social media played in the uprisings we saw sweep the region.

And the crackdown against the Internet in this region and others is no doubt playing a significant role in the decision, as reported in the New York Times , to fund the development of shadow voice and digital communications networks that would mean people could keep tweeting or talking even when repressive governments are cracking down on open communications.

More and more we see the United States putting Internet freedom at the top of its foreign policy. Obviously this is not all altruistic.

Any economist will tell you that putting in strong information systems can help stabilize regions and get more people participating in the economy and hopefully in the long term that will lead to a more prosperous life for all.

But, really, is the Internet a human right?

Yes absolutely, said La Rue.

"...All states need to have a policy of universal access," he said recently in an interview on CBC.

"...I'm not talking about Internet for weekend log cabins in the mountains

"(But)...why should people in Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal have Internet (while) the aboriginal population or northern populations do not?"

No longer can human rights be confined to just thinking about violations in the context of summary executions or torture. Now people have to understand that freedom of expression is also an obligation of the state to fulfill, said La Rue.

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