In the opinion piece, Cerf argues that internet access is not a human right, but rather an enabler of rights. Coming at it from a strictly theory perspective, I think this is a fine (IMPORTANT) distinction to make. We have the ideals we want realized (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, equality, etc) and then we have the requisite material/social conditions. While Cerf’s arguments were sloppy, I initially thought — hey, sure, internet access is what makes possible our various freedoms, but it isn’t a freedom itself.
But then I started thinking (not just from a theory perspective, but) about the constitutional rights in the US and the second amendment came to mind:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Whether or not we interpret this as a collective or an individual right (the right for those associated with a militia versus a right for all individual citizens)— the justification for this right, is that it is necessary for, enables, the protection of a free State.
In this case the right is justified by what it enables, precisely what people are trying to do when they say that internet access should be a right. Taking this right as an example, we could say, “Access to information, being necessary to the effective exercising of one’s freedom, the right of people to the internet shall not be infringed” (of course this would be a negative right, not a positive right — we wouldn’t go around providing everybody with internet access, but we could not prohibit access).
While Cerf makes a good theoretical distinction, some of our actual rights are justified in terms of what they enable. So he needs to either give up relying on the distinction between enabling conditions and actual rights, or explain how internet access is different than these actual cases.