A global survey has revealed that almost four in five people believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right.

The BBC World Service survey of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide. Of those surveyed, 87 per cent of those who used the internet felt that internet access should be ‘the fundamental right of all people', while 71 per cent of non-internet users also felt that they should have the right to access the web.

Over three quarters (78 per cent) said they felt it had brought them greater freedom, 90 per cent said they thought it was a good place to learn, and just over half said they enjoyed spending their spare time on social networking sites.

The poll found that results were evenly split between those who felt that ‘the internet is a safe place to express my opinions' (48 per cent) and those who did not feel this (49 per cent).

Also, more than half (53 per cent) of internet users agreed that ‘the internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere' - including large majorities in South Korea (83 per cent), Nigeria (77 per cent) and Mexico (72 per cent).

In the UK specifically, internet users are second only to those in Japan in feeling that the internet has increased their freedom, with 87 per cent agreeing that this is the case and only 11 per cent disagreeing.

More enthusiastic users of social networking sites than their western European neighbours in the sample, more than two in five (42 per cent) agree that they enjoy spending their time on sites such as Facebook or MySpace.

However, in common with other western Europeans, they are inclined to feel that there is a case to be made for some government regulation of the internet. Fifty-five per cent of Britons disagree that the internet should never be regulated by government, compared with 43 per cent who agree.

Asked if the internet is a similar human right to visiting a library or buying a newspaper for information John Lovelock, chief executive of The Federation Against Software Theft and Investors in Software (FAST IiS), said: “Access to the internet may be a human right, like driving a vehicle on the road, which may pose a threat to other users of the public thoroughfare:

1. The vehicle must be safe to use on the public networks and certified as such
2. The vehicle must be insured against harming other's vehicles, property or injury of other users
3. The vehicle must meet omission laws so as not to harm the environment
4. The vehicle must be taxed to cover maintenance of the public networks
5. The ‘driver/user' must be certified to manage such vehicles and be subject to inspection on suspicion of misdemeanour
6. The driver is subject to the law of the land and may lose that human right if it is abused and found in a court of law to be unlawful. This is the decision of the legal process and the legislation in place at any given time by the ruling government of the time voted for by the users of vehicles as well as non users, this is definitely a human right more important than any other on earth in my view.

“I don't see any difference between the internet, digital journeys and physical ones in our day to day lives, we're all subject to abiding by the law, which sometimes takes a bit of catching up to do versus the incredible development speed of technology, but in general we get there in the end.”