You have no right to the Internet
The other day, Vint Cerf wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he observed:
Over the past few years, courts and parliaments in countries like France and Estonia have pronounced Internet access a human right.
But that argument, however well meaning, misses a larger point: technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right. Loosely put, it must be among the things we as humans need in order to lead healthy, meaningful lives, like freedom from torture or freedom of conscience.
Well said, Mister I-created-the-Internet, well said. Read the rest, it is worth your time. But let’s examine the question more deeply: what constitutes a right? Sure, a human right is something we need to lead healthy lives, but can freedom from something, as opposed to freedom of something, be considered a right?
Freedom from something requires a mechanism for controlling others, such as self-restraint or governing law that acts as a deterrent against the something you want freedom from. Suppose that mechanism doesn’t exist, then what? Does your freedom cease to exist? No. However, if we go down the road of identifying what you have freedom from, we had better come up with an exhaustive list, otherwise some smartass will come along and do something to us that will violate one of the unspoken freedoms.
We would do better to identify those things we are free to do without relying on anyone else, and add the sole responsibility that we should respect the freedoms others claim, provided exercising those claims does not harm someone else.
Now we have a framework to identify a freedom (or human right, if you prefer):
- It must be something that all humans can claim, regardless of any other factor, such as time, space, or technology.
- Exercising the right must not harm another human
- Preventing someone else from exercising it produces identifiable, measurable harm to that person.
Using this framework we see that there can be no right to abortion, since it violates the second identifier – a distinct individual’s claim of a right to life. In a similar manner, we see that gun control violates the third identifier, because it prevents someone from defending their life. Even if gun control prevents someone from harming another human being, the point is irrelevant – we are expected to respect the freedoms others claim.