The internet is a human right, and everyone should have access.
Sounds far-fetched, we’re used to thinking of human rights as connected to security, equality, freedom; all the big stuff.
But Article 21 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states
Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
A quick search online shows that many countries are putting their public/government services online including;
- New Zealand
The UN has run a survey (latest data 2012) looking at “e-government”, which evaluates how ready a government is to provide information and services online, and how ready a country is to use those services. A lot depends on the political and economic situation of the country, just compare Somalia and Sweden to see this difference.
The Charter also lists “the right to education” and “the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community”, both of which increasingly have an online dimension. Governments, including local governments, are also seeking citizen participation online for local decision making.
Across Europe internet penetration is high at about 73%. It reaches close to 93% in Netherlands, but that still leaves more than a million people not using the internet. Across the EU it’s a third of the population.
As governments move services online they reduce the offices and physical services at the same time. At what point to governments have a responsibility to make sure online access is available to all? At what point does the drive to rationalise services and put them online start to infringe people’s rights?
I’ve been managing the @i_am_europe twitter account this week, and posting on a digital theme. It’s got me thinking about governments role in digital. A week ago I resisted the idea that governments had a role to play in the digital world – an attitude that probably marks me as one of the “digital elite”. But discussing some of the issues around digital and reading up on the EU plans it makes sense that governments and international bodies take a role in shaping the digital world we live in, making it a fairer place.
You can read more about progress so far on the EU website for the Digital Agenda, from the site it seems that good progress has been made – it’s harder to assess the actions of national governments, which is where citizens might notice a difference.
Of course this doesn’t mean that governments should build and deliver a full suite of online services, but that there is a need for a digital strategy for a country, and a need for international co-operation.
In my digging around the internet I also found out about the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which, according to their website
The purpose of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.
There is a call to add your local initiative to celebrate this day to the site – so far there’s just one event from Geneva, but there is time to add yours, the date of celebration is 17 May. I’d give you more detail, but to download the “circular letter from the ITU Secretary-General” I’m required to log-in for no good reason. I recall facing the same thing when I wanted to read some of the documents relating to the EU’s digital agenda – so I logged in using a fake identity out of peevishness.
The role of governments/regulatory bodies is about rules, policies and control. The internet world strives for openness and the technology lets us remove communications barriers. In my world people share ideas in 140 characters, there’s a dialogue across social media, books are co-created. Governments and regulatory bodies miss this mindset, which begs the question; are they fit to lead a Digital Agenda?
Image: Internet, 5 minutes, $1.00 / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0