Vincent Cerf, often cited as the father of the Internet, doesn’t think net access should be elevated to the level of a human right. It’s a hugely important component of life, he says, but even advanced tools should be seen as enablers as opposed to rights themselves. In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote:
The best way to characterize human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring Internet access a human right, acknowledged that the Internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
That doesn’t let engineers off the hook of their more humanistic responsibilities, though. Cerf goes onto say they have a “tremendous obligation” to both empower users and ensure their online safety. “As we seek to advance the state of the art in technology and its use in society,” he writes, “we must be conscious of our civil responsibilities in addition to our engineering expertise.”