Thursday, 11 March 2010

Internet access a “fundamental right”? [updated]

CLICK HERE FOR CURRAN'S PLEADING Labour’s Clare Curran quotes a BBC World Service poll saying “Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right.”

Which doesn’t make it a right.  Especially not a fundamental right.

Even Tapu Misa gets that much about rights, or at least is prepared to quote it in her Herald column: “As the philosopher and writer Ayn Rand observed, ‘Individual rights are not subject to a public vote’.”  And thank goodness for that.

To paraphrase Tapu Misa’s new favourite author just a little,

    “the source of man’s rights is not divine law or parliamentary law—or popularity contest--but the law of identity.
    “A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival.”

And the idea that access to the internet is a fundamental right?  Well, even if “four in five people around the world” would go that far, Clare Curran wouldn’t. Not quite. Not yet. “I am not saying categorically that access to the internet is a human right,” she says.

And thank goodness for that, because it isn’t.  It can’t be.  Because the test of a genuine right is not whether or not you can get four out of five people to agree with you about it, but whether or not it would, as a right, impose positive obligations on others. Even the Herald’s editorial writers understands this much:

    “Human rights are typically rights that everyone can enjoy equally at no cost to others. Society can recognise and uphold certain rights and freedoms because they can be applied equally to everyone; they do not require some people to be awarded rights at the expense of others. ‘Social’ rights are quite the opposite. They can be awarded only at the expense of others.”

“Social” rights? I’d call them bogus rights. Bogus rights are non-rights, since they can be awarded only at the expense of those required to service them—which means they serve to destroy real rights.  Fundamental rights. For example:

Create a “right” to a job, and you take away the rights of employers.

Create a “right” to a house, and you take away the rights of house-builders.

Create a “right” to health care, and you take away the rights of doctors and nurses.

Create a “right” to internet access, and you take away the rights of internet providers—as the assault by Clare Curran’s colleagues on Telecom’s shareholders demonstrates.

These are all good-things-to-have, to be sure, but being a-good-thing-to-have does not make it a right to have it. Free pizza and a big-screen TV are good things to have, about which we can be very sure, but to manufacture a “right” to those things would play havoc with the rights of Hell’s Pizza and the shareholders of Noel Leeming.

Rights are not to be multiplied beyond necessity, not even if our out of five people think they can be.

And not even when a Labour MP floats the idea on her blog as a trial balloon.

UPDATE: Good for Richard McGrath and Falufulu Fisi, whose straightforward common sense in the comments of Clare Curran’s post (here and here respectively) the Labour Party’s commenters are now doing their best to ignore.  They say it way better than I did:

Falufulu Fisi:

    “Clare, the argument that internet isn’t a right, it’s a privilege is right on the dot there.
    “Think about it as a property rights issue. This means that the provider of the internet services has no obligation to be forced (by law) to allow a person that it had banned for example from its services on the ground/s that this person had violated its rules. This banned person can’t run to court and complain that his access rights to the internet are being violated. The online services are properties that belong to the owner/s and not the citizens whom may have mistaken to believe that access to the internet is their rights by birth, but actually not. They (citizens) have a right to setup their own services (i.e., their own properties which they have rights to their use), but they can’t claim that getting access to the internet is being violated because no entrepreneur has setup such services in his village/town/country, etc…”


    “Falafulu Fisi is correct. Fundamental rights are timeless. Such as: the right to freedom of speech and expression; the right to possess and carry adequate means of self-defence; the right to be secure in one’s possessions from search and seizure. The sort of things that governments everywhere try to limit.
    There is no fundamental right to broadband access, just as there is no fundamental right to spaceship travel to the moon. These are things to be paid for if you have the money. Otherwise something has to be forced to pay for them and to provide or create them.
    The essential aspect of rights and freedoms is that no-one has to be forced to pay for or supply them. They impose no burden on anyone else.”


  1. Falafulu Fisi and I made comments under Clare Curran's post yesterday.

    The Red Alert blog feedback comments are read by several Labour MPs, many of them in the shadow cabinet (Mallard, Cunliffe et al).

    Cunliffe has commented that the debate is hotting up - naturally without addressing any of the points that FFF and I raised.

  2. Naturally.

    Thieving arsehole.

  3. Holy cow!

    Next thing you fellers'll be teaching that there aint a right to education, or healthcare, or travel, or roads, or food, or all the stuff needy people need. Where will it end? Will all the holy cows be slaughtered?

    Holy No Cow!


  4. I chipped in with an attempt to show in simpleton language how instituting "rights" to an "essentials" like fast broadband destroys freedom of choice - surely a right that we should treasure.

    "Food is essential but there are many different ideas on how to produce and provide it and individuals have different ideas about what proportion of their income they should spend on it and which providers they want to patronize. Individuals have a right to make those choices. This kind of right, these freedoms, are destroyed by those who institute the provision of this that and the other by government at taxpayers expense.

    I think people often confuse rights with essentials. To say that a product or a service is essential is not the same as saying it is a right to be provided by the state. When you add up income tax, GST, petrol tax and other levies and local government rates we are forced to pay close to half of our income on government. Many of us are struggling to pay for all this. This is a causative factor in the recession and is slowing our ability to recover. This is unsustainable and we are steadily loosing the right to set our own priorities as individuals. Those who want faster broadband should pay for it themselves when and if private providers offer it period."


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