Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Indra de Lanerolle, University of the Witwatersrand When most people think or speak about internet freedom, they are often concerned with the right, for example, to say what you want online without censorship and without being subject to the chilling effects of surveillance. These kind of freedoms are sometimes called “negative freedoms” or “freedoms from…”. They address the right not to be interfered with or obstructed in living your life. But there are also “positive freedoms” — “freedoms to…” Some constitutions – notably the US Constitution – only protect negative rights. But South Africa’s includes both negative and positive rights. Positive rights include, for example, the socio-economic rights to food and shelter. In its Internet Freedom Index Freedom House ranks South Africa as “free” alongside the UK, Argentina and Kenya. The ranking is largely because Freedom House weighs negative freedoms above positive ones. But how “free” is the internet in South Africa? For most, it is positive internet freedoms that may be more urgent. Freedom is access The South African Constitution in the Bill of Rights does not explicitly protect internet freedom but section 16(1) states that everyone has the right to “freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”. This is a right for everyone and it is not just a freedom from interference – a “freedom from” – but also a “freedom to”: a right to be able to reach others and be reached by others. In this it follows Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his book Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen describes freedom as “our capability to lead the kind of...
Censorship of online content: paternalism versus parental guidance

Censorship of online content: paternalism versus parental guidance

Over the last century, as mass media expanded across the world and entered into most homes, many countries have used laws and regulation to limit children’s exposure to, for example, violence or sex. South Africa has a set of media regulations designed to protect children. These include restrictions on broadcasters that bans content deemed unsuitable for children until after 9pm. Distributors of cinema films must submit their films for age classification before they are shown in cinemas. Broadcasters also label programming. But as parents know, many children now access content online. So what role should the state play in controlling or even advising what they can or should access? The South African Film and Publication Board (FPB), which regulates cinema and video distribution, has published draft regulations for classifying content online. They extend the system that applies to cinemas to all “commercial” content published online. Realising that this is a very ambitious undertaking, the regulations propose that the board does not carry out the classification alone. Rather, it should co-regulate with internet publishers or distributors. It proposes that all “distributors” of online content must register with the the board and then undertake to establish a system of pre-publication classification following the same rules the board uses. For a libertarian, there may be no better example of the nanny state than regulations that seek to give government a role in this aspect of child rearing. But there is some evidence from from other countries that parents really do want help. Research conducted in 25 European countries shows that around one-third of parents worry about their children seeing inappropriate content online...