Is Mobile Access a Human Right?

As mobile devices continue to connect the world in increasingly important and intricate ways, the role of mobile devices in our societies and our personal lives has steadily made its way from luxury to necessity. But just how much of a necessity is it to truly have a mobile phone? We all know that it is essential for business, practically a prerequisite for employment, as well as being a vital way to keep in touch with family. It can summon the help needed to navigate an emergency, provide vital information in a crisis, and perform a million other functions too numerous and varied to list here.

An essential part of the everyday lives of millions around the globe, many people could not perform the functions of their day to day lives without their mobile device – or at least, would have to dramatically alter their lifestyle. With such ubiquity and such an integrated role in society, could the mobile phone have become an essential human right?

The Case for Mobile Rights

It turns out that the question of how mobile devices play into human rights has already been considered. In India following the March 2014 rise to power by the new government, lead by a party known as the Bharatiya Janata, attempts to disrupt protesters led to the government shutting down internet and mobile telephone networks in at least three different incidents. (

These incidents in India are far from isolated, with suppression of mobile networks being a frequently used tactic by governments or agencies wishing to exert their control on their populations, or impede the communications of rebels or protesting groups. This is such a large, global issue that the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) put together a report entitled “Security Access: The Impact of Mobile Network Shutdowns.

According to the IHRB’s report, mobile network shutdowns can come with the following consequences:

  • Reduced Safety & Security
  • Restricted Access to Emergency Services
  • Businesses unable to communicate and access data
  • Students unable to access educational materials and school networks
  • Human Rights groups unable to monitor situations and areas
  • Electronic services such as mobile banking, health care services, etc. unable to operate
  • Substantial economic impacts, including lost revenues, uncollected taxes, and services unavailable

Your Mobile Device Might Actually be a Human Right

And its not just speculation that leads us to this conclusion. Many international watchdog groups, like the IHRB, agree that mobile devices are an essential part of our modern lives and infrastructure. This concept has arisen out of direct observation of the situation as it has developed globally, but a precedent is also set in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 12 of that document states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Undeniably, mobile devices and networks fall under these protections for correspondence from the UN – perhaps moreso than any other technology which could have been included under such a definition.

The Need for Access

So far in this article we have looked at the effects felt by people when their mobile networks are unfairly taken away. Yet it illustrates a greater point about how we must work to maintain the stability and availability of these networks for everyone. Mobile devices provide massive benefits into the lives not just of those of us living in high-tech societies. They also provide a massive enriching tool for those living in rural areas, and can actually represent a stepping stone out of poverty for the less fortunate.

Initiatives to recognize the mobile phone as an essential human right are the sort of forward thinking ideas which can help alleviate some of the problems faced across the globe. Providing access to education, health and emergency services, economic opportunities and much more, the role of these devices cannot be understated and is likely to only increase in importance as time goes on. We should recognize the vital role these devices play for people from all walks of life and all areas across the globe.

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