The Internet and the right to communicate

Abstract: Based on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the globalization of information communications technology (ICT), the authors assert a need for development of a human right to communicate.

They counter opposing arguments by asserting that communication (imparting and receiving information) is a survival need.

This right includes traditional information rights:

  • freedom of speech,
  • copyright,
  • privacy,
  • universal access, and
  • cultural, linguistic and minority diversity.

The nature of new ICTs, unforeseen in 1948 when Declaration was drafted, demands that a more concise and universalizable right be formulated, one that is not merely content-based, but accounts for horizontal, multi-channel, interactive communication.

Based on past failures to do so, they argue that such advocacy efforts must be inclusive grassroots national movements based on a soft-law strategy.


The example that the authors give of public health crises as, in part, due to lack of communication access is particularly compelling. Prior readings on user information behavior have asserted information need as a primary survival need, but this is an excellently concrete example that aims at societies and not only individuals.

The developed/developing nations divide mentioned in May's article is particularly highlighted by the justifiability question about pharmaceutical patents claimed by developed nations when there are public health crises in developing nations that could be alleviated by those medicines.

Communication need - distinct from information need in that filtered knowledge is passed along - seems almost indisputably to be a primary survival need (and, yes, a human right).

This, again, brings attention to the importance of use, context, and filtering when constructing information systems, as well as highlighting the need for education and advocacy.

McIver, Jr., W. J., Birdsall, W. F., & Rasmussen, M. (2003). The Internet and the right to communicate. First Monday, 8(12). Retrieved September 21, 2008 from