# Is Internet Access a Human Right? Reflections in the Wake of the Egyptian Protests

by Greg Bernhardt
Tags: access, egyptian, human, internet, protests, reflections, wake
Mentor
P: 21,663
 Quote by brainstorm Not some food in particular, but if a government has the means to provide people with food who would otherwise suffer from malnutrition, why wouldn't the government have the responsibility to provide that food?
Interesting that you used the word "responsibility" here, not "right".

The so-called "entitlements" (we do have Social Security and Medicare, plus welfare and unemployment compensation) can certainly be justified under that logic, but that does not make them rights. [edit: I see this has already been pointed out...]

It's been my perception that people slap the lable "rights" on things like healthcare to try to short-circuit logical debate about the issue. An awful lot of the healthcare debates both here and in the public forum went that way.
Mentor
P: 21,663
 Quote by jarednjames If those nations are no longer there with their armies to enforce those rules, there is no one to stop the order being given. Rights, as with all laws/rules, only exist so long as we can enforce them.
Ie, our enemies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy sawing the heads off civilian kidnapping victims and POWs. These acts were made illegal by the Geneva convention, but we're unable to enforce the rules.

It sounds like I need to put this disclaimer on every post now (not for you): Again, I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying that's the reality of how it works.
 Mentor P: 21,663 In an effort to keep this thread focused.... It is easy to say that the government shouldn't be doing these things when it is a government we don't like, but what about when it is a government we do like? Lincoln was by definition a traitor because he suspended certain rights during the Civil war (and, in fact, we now have laws that make it legal to do similar things). Yet at the same time he is revered by many (including me) for successfully freeing the slaves and keeping the union together. The treason part is typically ignored because I think it is difficult if not impossible to reconcile the two either logically or emotionally. So for people such as myself who recognize the two issues, we just have to allow them to be, without reconciliation. I'm not saying it's right or wrong and neither is this Doublethink. I'm just saying it happened - and I'm glad it did!
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 Quote by russ_watters Ie, our enemies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy sawing the heads off civilian kidnapping victims and POWs. These acts were made illegal by the Geneva convention, but we're unable to enforce the rules. It sounds like I need to put this disclaimer on every post now (not for you): Again, I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying that's the reality of how it works.
 Quote by russ_watters In an effort to keep this thread focused.... It is easy to say that the government shouldn't be doing these things when it is a government we don't like, but what about when it is a government we do like? Lincoln was by definition a traitor because he suspended certain rights during the Civil war (and, in fact, we now have laws that make it legal to do similar things). Yet at the same time he is revered by many (including me) for successfully freeing the slaves and keeping the union together. The treason part is typically ignored because I think it is difficult if not impossible to reconcile the two either logically or emotionally. So for people such as myself who recognize the two issues, we just have to allow them to be, without reconciliation. I'm not saying it's right or wrong and neither is this Doublethink. I'm just saying it happened - and I'm glad it did!
I think these two sum it up nicely.

Now so far as the internet goes, let's break it down a bit. For those who believe it is / should be a right, do you believe it is so under a current granted right (ie it is implied by freedom of speech or the like) or do you believe it is a right in itself?
P: 1,121
 Quote by russ_watters Interesting that you used the word "responsibility" here, not "right". The so-called "entitlements" (we do have Social Security and Medicare, plus welfare and unemployment compensation) can certainly be justified under that logic, but that does not make them rights. [edit: I see this has already been pointed out...] It's been my perception that people slap the lable "rights" on things like healthcare to try to short-circuit logical debate about the issue. An awful lot of the healthcare debates both here and in the public forum went that way.
I'd like to add that Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment (originally) require(d) a contribution in the form of a payroll deduction. The beneficiary paid into the system - had a vested interest. That is not a correct description of the systems at this time.
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 Quote by Greg Bernhardt Is access to the Internet a universal human right that should be recognized by the United Nations? *This*question,*buzzing around the world this week, is certainly one that I hadn’t thought of at length until now, so I posed it to … Continue reading → More...
Under this definition, I would say no.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rights-human/
"Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses. Examples of human rights are the right to freedom of religion, the right to a fair trial when charged with a crime, the right not to be tortured, and the right to engage in political activity."
The people in Egypt were not prohibited from engaging in political activity - they just couldn't use their social media. If it happened in the US - perhaps a class action suit could be filed?

I also looked through the United Nation's website regarding human rights.
http://www.un.org/en/rights/index.shtml

I found this piece - the topics of the paper are specified. The concern of the UN seems to be "the diversity of languages" and "the diversity of people of different abilities".
http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/pi1869.doc.htm
"The meeting will address five main themes: reaching the next billion; promoting cyber security and trust; managing critical Internet resources; taking stock and the way forward; and emerging issues -- the Internet of tomorrow. In addition to plenary sessions on these themes, there will be open meetings and thematic workshops to discuss specific issues and share best practices."
Mentor
P: 13,648
 Quote by Pengwuino No it is not a human right. No one has to pay $50/month for a human right. Especially something that is purely commercial. To quote Russ, "Errrrr......REBOOT!!" The right to a free press does not mean the government has to supply me with a printing press. Freedom of religion does not mean the government has to build a church for me and my flock. Freedom of speech does not mean the government has to supply me with a bully pulpit. The right to petition your congresscritter does not mean the government has to buy me a plane ticket to Washington. A right is a limitation on what the government can do. The concept of rights has been twisted as of late into meaning a requirement on what the government must do. The US Constitution, at least, is rather clear in this regard: The first amendment does not start with "Congress shall make laws ...". It instead starts with "Congress shall make no law ..." In the sense that a right is a restriction upon what governments can do, I would say that free and unfettered access to the internet is a right, one that I may well have to pay a non-government supplier$50/month to obtain.
 Sci Advisor P: 5,435 The entire concept of "rights" is a human invention. My position is that thy entire concept is a straw man. There is no such thing as "rights" to anything whatever. The only purpose of the concept of "rights" is to appeal on people's vague idea that "equality is a good thing", and it usually translates as "I think I should have more of something and other people should have less of it". The US constitution is no more relevant to this debate than any other "holy book". It's truths are only self-evident if you happen to believe they are true.
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 Quote by D H In the sense that a right is a restriction upon what governments can do, I would say that free and unfettered access to the internet is a right, one that I may well have to pay a non-government supplier $50/month to obtain. We have two separate issues as I see it. 1. The right to internet access - does an individual have a right to internet access (the government can't stop it without good cause - there are crimes that can get you blocked from using the internet in the UK)? 2. The rights relating to internet access - does an individual have a right to unrestricted internet access by the government (as you describe above, criminal issues aside)? Now I agree with both, in that the government shouldn't impose restrictions without due cause (as China do). But this is completely separate to "it should be provided for free".  Quote by AlephZero The entire concept of "rights" is a human invention. My position is that thy entire concept is a straw man. There is no such thing as "rights" to anything whatever. The only purpose of the concept of "rights" is to appeal on people's vague idea that "equality is a good thing", and it usually translates as "I think I should have more of something and other people should have less of it". The US constitution is no more relevant to this debate than any other "holy book". It's truths are only self-evident if you happen to believe they are true. That my friend is my exact thinking on the matter (as you can probably note from my posts). Which is why I dislike the whole rights (especially human rights) debate. P: 1,117  Quote by jarednjames Bingo. No government to do so = no jury trial unless someone else steps in to provide it. There is a government of checks and balances among conflicting powers. If one power tries, convicts, and punishes people without a fair trial, other powers will become hostile toward the abusive one. People try to stay friends or at least keep the peace with malevolent others, but ultimately there will always be a potential conflict and it's just a matter of time before it emerges into an active process of resolution.  Welcome to the world. Big, powerful countries impose rules on other countries. But you make it sound like that's where it ends. Powerful oppressive forces can maintain stability despite illegitimacy for a while but known illegitimacy brews increasing resistance. There is no such thing a permanently sustainable corruption.  Your freedom of speech right is just that. It does not grant you the right of access to ways to broadcast/promote your speech. It does however, ensure the government can't block your access to those services if you want it (certain legal areas aside). Right, but that also means that the government mustn't allow private parties to block access to transmission media when no adequate substitute is available. Thus the government can recognize internet as a univeral medium of communication but it could say that cable providers don't have a responsibility to allow universal access because people can use phone lines, etc. In other words, the government can prevent people from blockading each others' rights by breaking up monopoly (or oligopoly) control where it is functioning to curtail rights.  Quote by russ_watters I don't see what this has to do with the issue. These are still part of a negative right: the right to a fair trial is the right not to be artibtrarily and capriciously persecuted. I don't see what this has to do with the issue of the thread. The revolutionary war was most certainly an illegal act: everyone involved committed treason against Britain. That doesn't mean I think the US should be returned to status as a British colony. A human right to revolt would supercede national law, so something can be illegal and yet be a human right...but that's kind of a messy line of thought - and you're mixing together the two issues and making a mess of it. None. Again, I'm not saying it is right or wrong, I'm just saying it happens. You're arguing against reality here, not against me. It's not a messy line of thought, or rather it is a very important mess that has been created by authoritarianism, first in the form of divine rights of kings and later as national sovereignty. The issue is whether human authority can ever be absolutely relative to its own arbitrary sovereign. Are sovereigns accountable to higher reason, or can they claim an absolute monopoly over reason and truth from their own perspective. Can a king claim that killing is ethical when he decrees it, or is their a higher moral/reason that makes killing unethical regardless of who legitimates it and how? Maybe a more clear cut example would be if 1+1 could = 3 because a king says so.  Quote by russ_watters Interesting that you used the word "responsibility" here, not "right". One person's right is another person's responsibility to respect that right, no?  The so-called "entitlements" (we do have Social Security and Medicare, plus welfare and unemployment compensation) can certainly be justified under that logic, but that does not make them rights. [edit: I see this has already been pointed out...] The question would be whether these bureaucratic administrations have the right to systematically exclude people from benefits without undermining their fundamental rights. If people have the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness - does that mean they also have the right to SOME form of economic access, however defined?  It's been my perception that people slap the lable "rights" on things like healthcare to try to short-circuit logical debate about the issue. An awful lot of the healthcare debates both here and in the public forum went that way. That's possible. There should be open critical discussion without obfuscation and bullying on any issue. Back to the OP: what about the simple fact that if internet connections between family members are broken, those people can go through a lot of emotional stress worrying about what could be happening to their loved ones? Does a government have the responsibility to stop people from blocking communication lines when doing so social isolates people from loved ones? To make it more concrete, if I knew that a person's spouse was trying to call or email them to find out if they're alright during a crisis, is it my right (as police) to block that call/email as a military tactic to bring the rebels to submission?  P: 3,390 Brainstorm, your view is highly idealised and doesn't reflect reality. The rights granted now only last so long as those who agree to them maintain them. If the UN, European Union etc disappeared along with the governments that support them those rights granted under them do so also (that include human rights). Period. It is only if another government steps in an upholds them that they are maintained. As a private party, I can prevent you exercising your right to freedom of speech on my property - there is nothing the government can do. That's the end of it. I pointed out previously, in the UK everyone has the right to a phone line - the cost of installation and any calls are the responsibility of the consumer, not the government. The right only says a company / government cannot block a person getting a phone line and cannot stop you making an emergency services call for free. Your ability to communicate with family/friends is irrelevant. You are only granted communication for emergency purposes. Any other forms are chargeable to the consumer as they are services provided. P: 3,390  Quote by brainstorm One person's right is another person's responsibility to respect that right, no? Precisely. Respect it and only respect it. The government recognise your right to freedom of speech. They cannot prevent you from exercising it. But, they don't have to help you exercise it either. You have the right to own a gun (in America). The government can't stop this, but that doesn't mean they have to give out free guns. It simply means they can't stop you buying one. By your logic, the right to protect yourself with a gun implies the government should ensure everyone is equally armed - this is just non-sense. PF Patron P: 2,216  Quote by Evo That's like asking if a telephone, cell phones, radio, tv, etc... is a human right. I say no. Have to sadly agree here Greg and Evo... clean water is a human right... or at least one should have the right to drink water without paying for it.... but they'll have to pay for the filters to clean it... human rights are a human right.... what are they you ask??! List of human rights: Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 2 Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. Article 3 Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Article 4 No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. Article 5 No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 6 Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination. Article 8 Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. Article 9 No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. Article 10 Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him. Article 11 (1) Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense. (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed. Article 12 No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks. Article 13 (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. Article 14 (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Article 15 (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality. Article 16 (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. Article 17 (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property. Article 18 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Article 20 (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association. Article 21 (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. Article 22 Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality. Article 23 (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. Article 24 Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay. Article 25 (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection. Article 26 (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. Article 27 (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author. Article 28 Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized. Article 29 (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations. Article 30 Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein. This was the UN list of human rights laws that safeguards each and every individual. However, there are many places and many instances where these human rights are blatantly ignored. These human rights need no declaration to be drafted and passed. These are basic rights that every one, everywhere should follow. The greed for power and the false pride of begin better than the other, makes one forget the rights of others. Before anyone tries to violate the fundamental human rights of any individual, one should spare a thought, that the same thing could soon happen to them too. Hope this article on list of human rights issues has helped you understand your rights as an individual. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/list-...an-rights.html Mentor P: 13,648  Quote by baywax clean water is a human right... or at least one should have the right to drink water without paying for it.... I've never lived anywhere where water is free. There is always a fee, and that's a good thing. We have enough problems with water shortages during dry summers as it is.  List of human rights: [Long list elided] That is ridiculously long, and I doubt any government fully complies with it. There are too many "government shall pass laws ..." kinds of statements in that list. I like the way the US Constitution does it: "Congress shall pass no laws ..." Rights are not things that governments provide for people. Rights are things that governments cannot take away from people.  P: 3,390 You want clean water, it's free at a source. Go to a stream, do the leg work yourself. But the moment you want it stored, filtered and pumped to your house, there's a charge. As there should be. The internet is the same. If youou want to use the networks and systems that create it and have it piped to your house, then you have to pay for it. P: 1,117  Quote by jarednjames Brainstorm, your view is highly idealised and doesn't reflect reality. That really depends on how you interpret the nature of reality, doesn't it? If you interpret it a certain way, you need to explain that in a grounded way. There's nothing rigorous about simply insisting that reality backs up your claims. Anyone can do that regarding anything they say and the only support is subjective consensus on the part of "like minded" others. Truth is not majoritarian.  The rights granted now only last so long as those who agree to them maintain them. If the UN, European Union etc disappeared along with the governments that support them those rights granted under them do so also (that include human rights). Period. It is only if another government steps in an upholds them that they are maintained. Yes, but how do you define government? In the broadest sense, "governance" occurs whenever any agent of power exercises power to control themselves or someone else. You assume that formal institutionalized governance (i.e. "governments") have some special status but, of course, that status is just part of their power-tactics. It reminds me of that scene from Monty Python where Arthur goes around telling people that he's king of the Brittains and they ask, "who are Brittains?" and he says that they are "We all are." Without hegemonic recognition of hegemony and right to social-authority, there can still be power, ethics, respect for rights, etc. You're right, though, that exercising rights requires power, as does oppression.  As a private party, I can prevent you exercising your right to freedom of speech on my property - there is nothing the government can do. That's the end of it. How, by threatening me that if I exercise free speech you will punish me or revoke my privilege of being on your property? So who is actually required to respect the right of free speech in which situations exactly then? Anyone anytime?  I pointed out previously, in the UK everyone has the right to a phone line - the cost of installation and any calls are the responsibility of the consumer, not the government. The right only says a company / government cannot block a person getting a phone line and cannot stop you making an emergency services call for free. Ok, thanks for the info. Are you making a point with it? Are you reasoning that this is an adequate right or just saying that that's what you get and accept it b/c "the government says so?" If you're going to argue that power has the right to determine and restrict rights arbitrarily without providing defensible reason and being open to critical accountability, what's the point of discussing the topic in the first place?  Your ability to communicate with family/friends is irrelevant. You are only granted communication for emergency purposes. Any other forms are chargeable to the consumer as they are services provided. Interesting. Is it reasoned that people should have to submit to authority to be able to call their friends/family?  Quote by jarednjames The government recognise your right to freedom of speech. They cannot prevent you from exercising it. But, they don't have to help you exercise it either. It's not about the government "helping." It's about how far the government is willing to allow private enterprises and/or individuals to go in suppressing and exploiting your interest in contacting your family. If you came to me saying that you just received an email that your parent is dying, could I charge you$1000 to use my skype connection for 10 minutes? When does exploitation become a regulatory issue?

If the government has decided that you are a suspect or a participant in rebellion activities, do they have the right to block your access to communication lines, restrict economic opportunities, etc. without first having to try and convict you for a crime?

 You have the right to own a gun (in America). The government can't stop this, but that doesn't mean they have to give out free guns. It simply means they can't stop you buying one. By your logic, the right to protect yourself with a gun implies the government should ensure everyone is equally armed - this is just non-sense.
The gun argument is only really relevant if you are subsistence farming and you have no other means to protect your crops. If your farm is overrun with crop-predators, shouldn't the government offer you some assistance to help you be able to feed yourself and your family? It's not like you're not doing the work of planting, weeding, etc. It's just all the crop-predators have been scared away from everyone else's farm who had the means to run them off and so they are picking on you because you're the only one without a gun.
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 Quote by jarednjames You want clean water, it's free at a source. Go to a stream, do the leg work yourself. But the moment you want it stored, filtered and pumped to your house, there's a charge. As there should be. The internet is the same. If youou want to use the networks and systems that create it and have it piped to your house, then you have to pay for it.
The internet also requires a computer or other suitable device, electric power, and a connection. By comparison, you can stand outside with a large leaf and catch rain - big difference.
P: 1,121
 Quote by brainstorm Interesting. Is it reasoned that people should have to submit to authority to be able to call their friends/family? It's not about the government "helping." It's about how far the government is willing to allow private enterprises and/or individuals to go in suppressing and exploiting your interest in contacting your family. If you came to me saying that you just received an email that your parent is dying, could I charge you $1000 to use my skype connection for 10 minutes? When does exploitation become a regulatory issue? My first thought is what did they do 2,000 years ago, 1,000 years ago, 500 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years ago, 20 years ago, and 10 years ago? If you have the means to receice an email - why wouldn't you be able to respond? Also, what's to prevent someone with a cell phone that is charged to require a charge of the same$1,000 to a person with a dead battery? Both people would have equal access to the cell phone network, both have equal equipment, one has electric and one doesn't. Does the person with the dead battery have the right to use someone elses's phone?

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