6 key points about the "digital gap" and the right to the Internet

Internet es un derecho, fuera brecha digital
Current events
08 July 2020

ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) offer opportunities and improvements to people's daily lives, but also intensify and perpetuate pre-existing social inequalities.

In recent years, political initiatives to protect and promote digital rights on a global scale have grown because as long as there is a part of society that is marginal to ICT due to socioeconomic factors, there will continue to be digital and, therefore, social inequalities.

  1. What are digital rights?

Digital rights are human rights, within the realm of the Internet and digital technologies, that allow people to access, use, create and publish digital content, as well as to use electronic devices and communication networks.

The rise of the Internet and the continuous growth of ICTs make it increasingly difficult to guarantee the protection of people's rights in the digital sphere.

  1. Types of digital rights

Among digital rights we can find: the right to freedom of expression, to online privacy, the right to associate in virtual communities and the right of access to the Internet.

Also, linked to data protection: the right to be forgotten and rectified on the Internet; the right to digital disconnection from work; and the right to privacy in the face of the use of geolocation and video surveillance systems.

Furthermore, the network must be open and inclusive and must reflect human diversity, rather than homogenize it.

  1. What is the digital gap?

Digital rights must be guaranteed regardless of people's income level, geographic location, or their disabilities. However, reality shows that access and mastery of the use of new technologies depend on age, gender, educational level, provenance or economic context. This inequality is the digital divide.

The OECD defines it as "the inequality between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels regarding their opportunities to access ICT and the use of the Internet in a wide variety of activities".

  • Digital inequality accelerates and amplifies existing social inequalities. More information here.
  1. The three areas of the "digital gap" or "digital divide": in access, use and quality of use.

Access gap: It has to do with inequalities related to access to a good internet connection and devices such as computers, mobiles and tablets.

Use gap: Refers to the type of service that each uses from the Internet.

Quality of use gap: It has to do with the digital skills used to take advantage of ICT.

  1. First debates on the digital divide

The concept of “digital divide” was put on the table during the 2000s, with the emergence of the Internet. In 2001, the OECD defined the digital divide as the "division between individuals, households, economic and geographic areas with different socioeconomic levels in relation to both their opportunities for access to ICTs, and the use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities" .

In 2002, the Association for the Progress of Communications drafted the Charter on Internet Rights, taking as reference several rights of the UDHR and with special emphasis on freedom of expression, access to knowledge, free software, privacy and a multilateral internet and democracy.

A year later, in 2003, the United Nations held the so-called World Summit on the Information Society. The conference in Geneva resulted in a declaration specifying the importance of the right to freedom of expression in the framework of the "information society".

  1. Evolution of the digital divide concept

In the beginning, the digital divide was linked to the division between people, rich and poor, to access technologies. Later, with mobile technology, which has facilitated its massive consumption, the concept of digital divide also includes the need for everyone to have the digital skills necessary to use new technologies wisely.

The most recent initiatives to combat the "digital divide" highlight that the challenges are: improving access to digital services, promoting connectivity and inclusion, and improving electronic administration and digital public services.


Since then, many initiatives have emerged to promote digital rights and to narrow the digital divide. For example, in 2018, Barcelona, ​​New York and Amsterdam created the Cities Coalition for Digital Rights, with the aim of protecting human rights on the Internet from the local and global level, and to promote the creation of laws, tools and resources around these five principles:

  • Universal and equal access to the Internet and digital literacy.
  • Privacy, data protection and security. Everyone should have control of their personal data in the virtual environment, to guarantee their confidentiality, security, dignity and anonymity. In other words, it is necessary that everyone knows where their personal data will be placed on the Internet and what will be done with this data.
  • Transparency, accountability and non-discrimination of data, content and algorithms. Everyone must be able to understand how the Internet works, in order to have a critical vision that allows us to distinguish unfair or discriminatory circumstances.
  • Participatory democracy, diversity and inclusion. Everyone should be able to feel represented on the Internet, taking into account that digital infrastructures are a common good that must be accessible to all.
  • Open and ethical digital service standards. New technologies must guarantee these inclusion standards.

More information on digital rights for vulnerable social groups, here.

Fuentes: xarxanet.org, Suport Tercer Sector – Jurídic, Autor/a: J.Hinojo, imagen UGT comunicaciones