Internet not just a privilege, a right

Rob Burkett / Washburn Review

With the events that have transpired this year in what has been termed, “the arab spring” more than at any other time the power of information has been on display. At the same time that all of that is occurring, I was also somewhat amazed that the issue of information freedom has once again reared its ugly head domestically.

The Libyan uprising featured students and other dissidents rioting in the eastern part of the nation. This on the face of it isn’t that remarkable as Moammar Gadhafi, the dictator of Libya has used violence, torture and intimidation to repress his people throughout his time as leader of the North African nation.

What is remarkable, is how social media, televised news and the internet have played a central role in the opposition’s ability to mobilize and organize in their opposition to the regime. Despite the fact that only 10 percent of the nation reportedly has access to the internet, cell phones and social media have reportedly allowed the opposition to communicate with their compatriots throughout the nation coordinating their efforts to overthrow the government.

While all of this has been occurring abroad with untold amounts of people killed fighting for their very freedom, the issue of information freedom in the United States is front and center in the instance of a situation that revolves around the death just one person.

Oscar Grant, a resident of the city of San Francisco, Calif. was fatally shot New Years Day 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit system police officer. After a lengthy trial process, the officer standing trial was convicted, though of lesser charges.

Fast forward to present day with peaceful protests planned at several of the transit stations. In order to discourage the protesters from organizing and creating what BART officials called, “unsafe travel conditions” internet and cell phone service was suspended throughout the duration of the announced protest times.

While some argue that their freedom of speech and to assemble was not infringed upon, people need to recognize that the definition of free speech is evolving with the media world we are living in. The ability to access the internet is in itself a right that is quickly becoming a basic right of Americans. To muzzle people through denying service to people in a public place by a public service is akin to the denial of equal access to any other service offered by the government.

One hopes that as the ramifications of this incident works its way through both society and, presumably, the legal system that the Supreme Court will eventually address this issue as we as a nation strive to determine the impact that 21st century technology will have on laws written in the 18th century. I hope that the esteemed members on the bench will rule in favor of public access to the internet in this case as the only thing that will kill a free and open society is the government repression of its people to speak out in opposition to the decisions that the government makes or we might as well all move to Tripoli, Tehran or Bejing.