All hail the Internet?

Two stories this week have emphasised the importance of the Internet in today’s world.

The most recent, and perhaps the strangest, is the news that the Internet has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, in a campaign mounted by Wired Italy – this is how the English language version of Wired is reporting it. Of course there have been stranger (and much more controversial) nominations over the years, but even so it does seem an unusual, though far from unwelcome suggestion. The Internet can be (and at times has been) a wonderful tool for peace. As said Riccardo Luna, editor-in-chief of the Italian edition of Wired magazine puts it: “The internet can be considered the first weapon of mass construction, which we can deploy to destroy hate and conflict and to propagate peace and democracy. What happened in Iran after the latest election, and the role the web played in spreading information that would otherwise have been censored, are only the newest examples of how the internet can become a weapon of global hope.”

The second story comes from the BBC World Service, who commissioned a poll, covering more than 27,000 people in 26 countries across the digital divide which came up with some headline grabbing statistics, the most notable of which was that across the world, almost 80% of people now regard Internet access as a basic human right. There are many highly revealing findings, both on a country-by-country basis and giving more of a global picture, but the headline figure is certainly something about which we should stop and think. Internet access a basic human right, comparable with electricity and water? And this is something believed not just in technologically advanced countries, but right across the digital divide – countries such as Mexico, Brazil andTurkey most strongly supporting the idea of net access as a right.

So, two stories, one suggesting that the Internet should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize, the other suggesting that access to the Internet is a fundamental human right – and what do we have happening in the UK, and seemingly quite likely to become law, but the idea of restricting or even cutting off internet access for people caught illegally file-sharing, in the shape of the Digital Economy Bill. Cutting off a fundamental human right, for something that, though illegal, is hardly of the most egregious of crimes, doesn’t exactly seem proportionate. Though people like Ian Livingston, British Telecom’s Chief Executive, who has publicly raised his concerns about the Bill, along with various other industry leaders (including representatives of BT, Virgin Media, Carphone Warehouse and Orange) may have a clear vested interest in opposing these terms within the Bill, it is certainly something that many more of us should be concerned about.

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