Smartphone Ownership: A Human Right?

Smartphone Ownership: A Human Right? - Lovefone, London

Should owning a smartphone be considered a human right? At a time when internet access as a human right is a hot button issue, smartphone ownership as a human right may not be far off. After all, smartphones give users easy access to the internet, and are often far more affordable than computers.

At first glance, even the idea of internet access as a human right may seem ridiculous. With billions of people going hungry and living without access to good healthcare around the world, the ability to search the web probably doesn't seem like a dire need. “It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right,” FCC Commissioner Michael O'Reilly reports. “Instead, the term ‘necessity’ should be reserved to those items that humans cannot live without, such as food, shelter, and water.”

However, the U.N. recently released a report stating, in no uncertain terms, that governments or other entities disconnecting users from internet access are in violation of those users' human rights. While the report was issued in response to recent actions in France and the United Kingdom, it happened to be released the same day that two-thirds of the internet was cut off to users in Syria, in a probable response to political unrest.

One must consider how universal access to all the internet has to offer could improve the lives of those in third world countries, or even those in developed countries who simply can't afford it. The benefits are profound and go far beyond simply being able to send a text. Around the globe, having access to the internet directly adds 1-1.4% to the employment growth rate.  Even so, a 2015 study on global access to the internet  by the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution claims that only about 3.1 billion people have internet access, leaving 4.2 billion people without the potential job growth and economic progress that come simply from access to the internet.  

In a hypothetical world where virtually every adult has a smartphone in their hands, a shift would be felt by those of us in developed, prosperous countries as well. Smartphones allow us to literally show the world a snapshot of our lives. The landscape of Instagram and other photo sharing apps would surely change overnight, and inevitably, our global perspective along with it. Imagine seeing photos of huts, or the daily realities of other humble dwellings, as opposed to the myriad photos of millionaire celebrity mansions we are subjected to on a daily basis.

New medical apps and features are available on certain smartphones that many claim could revolutionize modern healthcare. These apps are packed with information on medication dosing, and even overdose, and some apps can even turn a smartphone into a medical device that can monitor vital signs on the spot.

Beyond messaging and taking selfies, smartphones may help bring justice to corners of the world where there has previously been no accountability, and unspeakable acts of violence are the norm. In his book, The Evolution of Human Rights: Visions Seen, Paul Gordon Lauren explains that, “today's handheld computers or smartphones ...possess the capabilities to record and transmit words, sounds, or images to expose human rights abuses throughout the world ...and give victims a voice.”

Along that same vein, the International Bar Association and LexisNexis have come together to develop the EyeWitness to Atrocities app, which allows users to capture war crimes and acts of terrorism in real-time, resulting in evidence that could potentially be admissible in court.

If smartphones do come to be thought of as a basic human right, many new users will need help getting started. There are many amazing websites that assist users with everything from troubleshooting common problems to purchasing an affordable, used smartphone. Help is now just a double tap away.

Author: Rae Avery

January 22, 2016