We’ve all witnessed the important role that networks like Twitter and Facebook have played in recent world events. And we’ve also seen how quickly governments remove access to these networks when they threaten their survival, as well as the levels that people are prepared to go to get around these blockades (and even how the biggest players in tech have helped).
Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), says that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water. We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
Few would disagree. But the internet as both an entity and concept is vast, and a fundamental right to access it as a whole is not the same thing as the right to access every part of it. And just how deep do these rights go – for example, is access to Twitter something that somebody in prison should expect? Or even demand?
After all, it’s not unheard of for prisoners to be using Facebook and other mediums to broadcast their message to the world. Right now, sure, it’s frowned upon, but as a society (certainly in the West) we’ve softened our expectations of prison life for all but the most evil of criminals. I don’t think anyone really likes the idea of Richard Ramirez having a Facebook page, but what about your more common or garden inmate? Should a guy doing six months for tax evasion lose all access to the social space, or is that excessive and unnecessary? Perhaps even cruel and unusual punishment?
Right now, I suspect that most people would feel that Twitter was a luxury, certainly for the majority of detainees. But times change, and much as everybody has a right to their one phone call, it’s not completely out of the realms of possibility that, somewhere down the line, access to social networks for prisoners will be fairly commonplace, albeit with inevitable (and necessary) restrictions in place. And there will always be exceptions, those that committed crimes so heinous that the very thought of them having any legitimate contact with the rest of the world would make us shudder.
Or will it? Rights are rights, after all, even for the most wicked of prisoners. And who are we to decide otherwise?