Friday, November 6, 2009

Democracy on the Internet?

We all love Democracy right? Its one of those things you love without fully understanding what it is, like freedom or hot dogs. So what does it mean when the Council of Europe starts calling for more democracy on the web? This week the Council of Europe will be holding the 2009 Internet Governance Forum in Egypt. While it would be beyond the scope of this blog to point out the irony of holding a forum on e-democracy in a country with a sham democratic system of government, it would behoove us to discuss what e-democracy is.

The internet is recognized to be the means by which everything comes to pass. It can be said that a large number of people in the world effectively live on the internet. Their financial transactions, social interaction, entertainment, learning and working are all done on the internet. So like every aspect of human life, the internet needs to be controlled and it needs to be done in a way that will jive with current governmental/ economic setups, so what else but a democracy?

What does this mean? Are we voting on internet content? e-democracy, according to the Council of Europe, means equal access to content and equal opportunity to produce content. The internet then is an extension of "freedom of expression" or "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" The country of France went so far as to decide that internet access is a fundamental human right. But will the internet become intrinsically linked to our understanding of democracy?

So what do you think? Is the internet a fundamental human right? What does democracy on the web mean to you? Is democracy the best way to govern the web? Should national governments decide how the internet should be run? Should only national governments with democratic systems be allowed to decide? What about China, who currently hosts the highest number of internet users in the world? What should they talk about at the 2009 Internet Governance Forum?


  1. I don't think I'd categorize any electronic media as a fundimental human right, but there should be reasonable access to the internet for the purpose of communicating ideas. The issue of control is one that needs some thought. Does a democratic internet mean that anything goes? We've already seen what the negative impact on the profession of Journalism has been with the advent of blogging and e-journalism. Issues regarding fact varification don't seem to apply on the net where opinion and fact are often blurred. So I believe that some rules are needed but how should rules be set and who should set them? While there are no world wide processes to set the tone for all countries, even to set a baseline for internet access rights, perhaps forums like the one in Egypt, even though we have problems with their system of governance, could make a good start. Paul Snyder

  2. I believe that having access to information is a fundamental human right. My main source to accessing information is the internet, so yes I believe that the internet is a fundamental human right. In order to completely participate in society you need to be informed.

    The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Having the right to internet access easily falls into this category.

  3. While I believe that having access to information may be a fundamental human right, information can be accessed in many different formats, so it is unclear to me whether or not access to the Internet specifically is a fundamental human right. I believe there may come a time when it may be, but I am not convinced that we are there yet. While information may be ubiquitous on the Internet, it is not at all clear whether much of that information is truthful, accurate, or verifiable. And, in a country like China, which actively censors its Web content, blocking information that it does not want its citizens to see, it is questionable whether the information one obtains on the Internet represents an accurate depiction of reality. Is it still a fundamental human right to access the Internet if what one is accessing is a carefully formulated fiction? I am just not sure that it is.