Technology and human rights

How can technology be a powerful force in support of human rights?

Photo:EFE/Sohail Shahzad

Series co-sponsored with Business & Human Rights Resource Centre and University of Washington Rule of Law Initiative.



Examples of how technology can be used as a powerful tool for human rights are ever expanding.  Newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and blockchain have the potential to make significant positive contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights. 

At the same time, however, rapid development in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics raise serious questions about potential adverse human rights impacts and the future of work and rights of workers.  

The role of businesses, who will both create and utilize new technologies, is a critical issue.  Will the private sector develop and deploy technologies in a way that is consistent with respect for human rights, and that builds in appropriate safeguards to prevent and mitigate negative human rights outcomes?  At the same time, governments must also focus on their duty and examine how to ensure that businesses act responsibly.

The growth of these technologies raises important questions about whether our current policies, legal systems, and documentation and advocacy strategies are sufficient to mitigate the human rights risks that may result, many of which are still unknown. This series examines the potential and actual human rights risks posed by these technologies and how the human rights field can respond by exploring the following questions:

  • How can technology be a powerful force in support of human rights and what are the key human rights risks associated with the rapid expansion of newer technologies, such as artificial intelligence, automation, and blockchain?
  • How can norms and approaches in the business and human rights field, including use of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, help prevent or mitigate human rights risks of new technologies and hold companies developing these new technologies accountable?
  • What actions can rights advocates take to ensure that technological advances do not exacerbate inequality for those who are already among the most marginalized?
  • How does the deployment and development of these new technologies impact sustainable development and the promotion of human rights in the Global South?

Collaborating Partners (April 2018 onwards): the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre  a global human rights non-profit organization that works with everyone to advance human rights in business and eradicate abuse; and, the University of Washington Rule of Law Initiative. 

For more on the latest news and resources regarding technology and human rights, visit the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre’s technology and human rights portal.


Social media complicates mainstream media goals of pluralism and diversity

January 22, 2020
By: Maria Luisa Stasi & Pierre François Docquir

Freedom of expression demands and facilitates the development of pluralistic media landscapes. But as ...

What the “digital welfare state” really means for human rights

January 8, 2020
By: Philip Alston

The digitalization of welfare is presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure ...

Putting human rights law at the core of debates on online political campaigning

December 13, 2019
By: Kate Jones
Español | Français

To date, it’s been left to the tech companies to set limits on online political campaigning. Governments ...

WhatsApp sues NSO Group: is this what it takes to hold surveillance tech to account?

November 1, 2019
By: Ana Zbona & Phil Bloomer

A lawsuit exposing the use of surveillance software to target human rights defenders shows the urgent ...

Protecting children’s digital bodies through rights

October 30, 2019
By: Kristin Sandvik
Español | العربية

Children are becoming the objects of a multitude of monitoring devices—what are the possible negative ...

Technology and gaming innovations bring new life to Russian NGOs

September 12, 2019
By: Tatiana Tolsteneva
Español | Русский

Russia’s non-profit sector has been playing a constant game of catch-up—can new media technologies break ...

Why do emerging AI guidelines emphasize “ethics” over human rights?

July 10, 2019
By: Alison Berthet

It’s clear that regulation of AI must start now, but why do emerging frameworks primarily talk about ...

Bringing women’s voices into the “Smart City Just City” dialogue

June 13, 2019
By: Natalie Gill

Can urban planners use the technology in “Smart Cities” to create cities that are more just—and safe—for ...

Competition rules could protect human rights on social media platforms

June 4, 2019
By: Maria Luisa Stasi

Social media platforms are abusing their dominant position and exploiting users with terms of service ...

Sex robots: a human rights discourse?

May 2, 2019
By: Carlotta Rigotti

What are the human rights implications in the growing market for sex robots? Are these AI “gynoids” ...

Delinking the “human” from human rights: artificial intelligence and transhumanism

April 10, 2019
By: A. Kayum Ahmed
Español | isiXhosa

The development of artificial intelligence and transhumanism are challenging what it means to be human—and ...

How civil society can work to improve our technological future

March 13, 2019
By: Lincoln Ajoku
Español | Français

Given the rapid pace of change in the development and uptake of digital and emerging technologies, civil ...

Failure to act: getting ahead of technological threats to democracy

March 6, 2019
By: Laura Rosenberger

Adversaries of democracy are deliberately targeting free speech, and democratic nations must get ahead ...

Blockchain technologies offer transparency that could improve human rights practices

January 24, 2019
By: Dean Pinkert & James Ton-that & Ravi Soopramanien
Español | Français

Blockchain solutions could help companies comply with human rights due diligence in more effective and ...

Beyond Internet access: seeking knowledge justice online

January 22, 2019
By: Kira Allmann & Anasuya Sengupta
Español | العربية

Most debates around the internet and human rights focus on narrowing the digital divide and facilitating ...

Restricting cybersecurity, violating human rights: cybercrime laws in MENA region

January 10, 2019
By: Wafa Ben-Hassine & Dima Samaro
العربية | Français

Oppressive laws purporting to prevent cybercrime in the MENA region are robbing internet users of their ...

A tech solution to documenting sexual violence

January 3, 2019
By: Suzanne Kidenda & Katy Johnson
Español | Français

A simple app, developed in close co-operation with clinicians, police and other end-users, is making ...

Why policymakers need to tackle the digital gender gap

December 19, 2018
By: Ana Brandusescu

Tackling the digital gender gap means more than improving internet access—it means empowering women ...

How can AI amplify civic freedoms?

December 18, 2018
By: Zach Lampell & Lily Liu
العربية | 简体中文

Civil society must improve its knowledge and use of artificial intelligence in order to limit exploitation ...

Identities in the crosshairs—censoring LGBTQ internet content around the world

November 27, 2018
By: Miles Kenyon, Adam Senft and Ronald Deibert
Español | العربية

A Canadian company is enabling its software to be used globally to censor access to information on LGBTQ ...

Tech companies’ inability to control fake news exacerbates violent acts

November 20, 2018
By: Jennifer Easterday & Hana Ivanhoe

In the absence of sufficient monitoring and ameliorative action on the part of the tech companies, fake ...

Communications infrastructure in Palestine has become a tool of repression

November 13, 2018
By: Who Profits Research Center
العربية | Français

Restrictions on Palestinian mobile companies mean that Israeli companies reap profits from Palestinian ...

Geospatial technology—done right—can improve human rights documentation

November 8, 2018
By: Theresa Harris
Español | العربية

With private corporations now the largest providers of satellite technology, human rights practitioners ...

What “datafication” means for the right to development

September 27, 2018
By: Anita Gurumurthy & Deepti Bharthur
Español | Français

Breakthroughs in technology—including artificial intelligence—can help fulfill the right to development, ...

Mitigating unfair bias in artificial intelligence

September 4, 2018
By: Bernard Shen

Instead of choosing between humans-only systems and AI systems, leveraging the best of human values ...

The corporations’ dilemma: navigating government access to information

August 16, 2018
By: Isabel Laura Ebert
Français | Deutsch

Technology can help to prevent conflict, but it can also facilitate human rights abuses, and companies ...

New human rights principles on artificial intelligence

August 15, 2018
By: Sherif Elsayed-Ali
Español | Français

A new set of principles—the Toronto Declaration—aims to put human rights front and centre in the development ...

Risks and responsibilities of content moderation in online platforms

August 1, 2018
By: Richard Wingfield

The issue of content moderation in online platforms has been missing in debates on business and human ...

What digital searches reveal about our engagement with rights

July 18, 2018
By: Rayyan Dabbous

Trends in Google searches show that most internet users are interested in the human rights during crises ...

Bringing justice close: an experiment in accessing justice with technology

July 17, 2018
By: Shreya Sen

Legal empowerment enables poor and marginalized communities to be partners in development and decision-making, ...

Without binding rules, AI guidelines are just wishful thinking

June 27, 2018
By: Emre Eren Korkmaz
Türkçe | Español

Many governments have released official strategies to promote AI systems leaving the public with few ...

A gender lens is critical to resolving tech-enabled abuse

June 27, 2018
By: Michelle Lau-Burke & Callie Strickland

Technology can raise awareness and spark collective action, but it can also deepen gender divides and ...

Embedding digital security in feminist movement building

June 21, 2018
By: Jennifer Radloff
العربية | Français | Español

Strengthening the resilience of the women’s rights movement requires feminists to place digital security ...

AI insights into human rights are meaningless without action

June 20, 2018
By: Samir Goswami

We need to act upon the insights that we glean from AI: technology is not a replacement for the political ...

The “new green”? Business and the responsible use of algorithms

May 17, 2018
By: Matthew Fenech
Español | Français

Algorithms have long aided decision-making, but as artificial intelligence gains greater autonomy, businesses ...

Artificial Intelligence can be a boon for businesses, but can it protect workers?

May 17, 2018
By: Emre Eren Korkmaz
Türkçe | Español | Français

Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming business models, but labor rights and other human rights ...

As artificial intelligence progresses, what does real responsibility look like?

May 16, 2018
By: Dunstan Allison-Hope & Mark Hodge
Español | Français | 日本語

Artificial intelligence is disrupting how we live, work, do business, and govern—but what mechanisms ...

Apps and traps: why dating apps must do more to protect LGBTQ communities

May 16, 2018
By: Afsaneh Rigot
العربية | فارسی

Repressive states are manipulating dating apps to find and target LGBTQ individuals, and app companies ...

Addressing the potential human rights risks of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”

May 16, 2018
By: Phil Bloomer & Christen Dobson
Español | Deutsch

Technology has the power to free us from drudgery or to decimate livelihoods, and the choices that governments ...

FIFA 2018: digital rights are (finally) playable

May 16, 2018
By: Peter Micek

Mega events like the Olympics and the World Cup are bringing digital rights concerns under increased ...

DNA testing can help – and hinder – sexual violence prosecutions

February 28, 2018
By: Karen Naimer
Español | Français

DNA technology in sexual violence cases can strengthen investigations and prosecutions, but training ...

To strengthen digital security for human rights defenders, behavior matters

May 9, 2017
By: Michael Caster
简体中文 | Español

When approaching digital security for human rights defenders in hostile environments, we need to think ...

Ethics, technology and human rights: navigating new roads

March 28, 2017
By: Danna Ingleton

When we incorporate new technologies into human rights work, we need to be acutely aware of agency, ...

The fine print: seeing beyond the hype in technology for human rights

March 8, 2017
By: Zara Rahman

With all the hype about new technologies for human rights, activists must think critically and strategically.

Beyond science fiction: Artificial Intelligence and human rights

January 4, 2017
By: Jonathan Drake

Artificial Intelligence is growing at rapid pace, and so are significant ethical and human rights dilemmas.

Will technology transform the human rights movement?

March 26, 2014
By: Iain Levine

Even as technological developments threaten human rights, they create new opportunities for activism. ...