The "father of the internet", Vint Cerf, and email guru Nathaniel Borenstein have clashed online over whether or not access to the internet should be considered a human right.
Cerf, who helped develop the IPv4 protocol, wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times at the start of the year arguing it should not be considered a human right as it is merely an enabler of human rights, such as free speech, rather than a right itself.
However, Borenstein, who helped create the multimedia internet electronic mail (MIME) protocol system for sending multimedia in email messages and now chief scientist at Mimecast, disagreed with Cerf on this issue in a strongly worded blog post.
"In his modesty, perhaps, Vint [Cerf] fails to recognise the extent to which the internet is transforming almost every aspect of society, [...] including the political and cultural spheres in which many of our hitherto-guaranteed rights will become meaningless without internet access," he said.
"Does anyone really believe this is possible, in the modern world, without access to the internet? More broadly, it is increasingly impossible to participate fully in the political life of a developed nation without internet access."
However, responding in the comments section of the blog, Cert reiterated his argument and claimed that humans should not make the mistake of elevating the internet above the concept of communication as a whole.
"I am not devaluing the internet by any means. What I am saying, however, is that we should not enshrine a particular technology as a human right. The right to communicate (speak, hear, write, read) is vital. Any particular way to do that is an enabler," he said.
"The internet is one of the most recent in a long skein of inventions that have enhanced our ability to share our thoughts and ideas. It is a remarkably malleable medium.
"But if, someday, something new comes along that is even better, will we cling to the internet as a human right or turn to the new thing as a better enabler of the right to communicate?"
Debates over whether access to the internet should be classed a human right have been growing for some time, with a report by a UN special rapporteur criticising moves in nations such as the UK to ban citizens from the web for copyright infringements on this basis.
"Given that the internet has become an indispensable tool for realising a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access should be a priority for all states," said report author Frank La Rue.
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