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[liberationtech] Internet no human right, but what role for engineers?

Graham Webster g at
Fri Jan 6 07:03:36 PST 2012


I'm sure many if not most have at least seen the headline of Vint Cerf's
op-ed in the New York Times: "Internet Access Is Not a Human Right."

My question that comes out of it is what role for engineers is Cerf
envisioning. He makes the rather mundane assertion that "engineers have not
only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to
ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting
users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their
computers. Technologists should work toward this end."

He also calls out the IEEE as an important organization. I'm just not
convinced one way or another on the amount of influence engineers can have
in shaping the human rights-supporting propensities of technology in the
field. I think it's fair to say most people want technology's role to be
broadly positive on the human rights map. People like Evgeny Morozov point
out this doesn't always happen. And Cerf alludes to the fact that Internet
access or the denial thereof can play a role in establishing or
constricting human rights.

Is it even sensical to ask: What is the role of engineers, when their work
is affected by market forces, governments, users, and other technological


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