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.


 

COVID-19 exposes why access to the internet is a human right

By: Jack J. Barry
Español | Français

COVID-19 has exposed the underlying reality that not everyone has internet at home.

Systemic bias in data models is a human rights issue

By: Isabel Laura Ebert & Thorsten Busch
Español | Français

The tech industry must engage with those affected by data errors and embedded discrimination to avoid systemic bias in data models.

We need privacy and data laws to tackle this world pandemic

By: Beatriz Botero Arcila
Español | 简体中文

Governments are increasingly using digital technologies and big data analytics to address the Covid-19 pandemic. These technologies can’t replace other comprehensive ...

Addressing the gender bias in artificial intelligence and automation

By: Surya Deva
Español | Français

If AI and automation are not developed and applied in a gender-responsive way, they are likely to reproduce and reinforce existing gender stereotypes and discriminatory ...

When law meets tech: moving toward rights-based AI

By: Vanja Skoric
Español

To address the rights implications of AI, legal and human rights professionals must develop broader knowledge-building networks and increase collaboration across ...

Landmark judgment from the Netherlands on digital welfare states and human rights

By: Christiaan van Veen
Español | Français

A landmark judgement in the Netherlands shows how technology used by governments to stop welfare fraud and improve “efficiency” may be leading to unjustified exclusion, ...

Facebook’s new recipe: too much optimism, not enough human rights

By: Stefania Di Stefano
Español | Français | Italiano

Because social media platforms dominate public forums worldwide, a governance system rooted in “social values” instead of human rights may be convenient for companies, ...

When technology facilitates ICE raids that violate rights, who is responsible?

By: Jacinta Gonzalez
Español | Deutsch

Palantir has argued that its technology does not play an active role in deportations and the human rights violations that have occurred under the Trump administration, ...

Social media complicates mainstream media goals of pluralism and diversity

By: Maria Luisa Stasi & Pierre François Docquir
Español

Freedom of expression demands and facilitates the development of pluralistic media landscapes. But as more people get personalized news feeds from social media, ...

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

By: Philip Alston
Español

The digitalization of welfare is presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies. In reality, it ...

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

By: Kate Jones
Español | Français

To date, it’s been left to the tech companies to set limits on online political campaigning. Governments need to step in and to use human rights law as a framework ...

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

By: Ana Zbona & Phil Bloomer

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

Protecting children’s digital bodies through rights

By: Kristin Bergtora Sandvik
Español | العربية

Children are becoming the objects of a multitude of monitoring devices—what are the possible negative ramifications in low resource contexts and fragile settings?

Technology and gaming innovations bring new life to Russian NGOs

By: Tatiana Tolsteneva
Español | Русский

Russia’s non-profit sector has been playing a constant game of catch-up—can new media technologies break this pattern and appeal to younger audiences?

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

By: Alison Berthet
Français

It’s clear that regulation of AI must start now, but why do emerging frameworks primarily talk about ethics rather than law and human rights?

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

By: Natalie Gill
Español

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

Competition rules could protect human rights on social media platforms

By: Maria Luisa Stasi
Español

Social media platforms are abusing their dominant position and exploiting users with terms of service that fail to protect their human rights. Competition rules ...

Sex robots: a human rights discourse?

By: Carlotta Rigotti
Español

What are the human rights implications in the growing market for sex robots? Are these AI “gynoids” just harmless sex toys, or do they further marginalize women ...

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

By: A. Kayum Ahmed
Español | isiXhosa

The development of artificial intelligence and transhumanism are challenging what it means to be human—and who (or what) constitutes the “human” in human rights.

How civil society can work to improve our technological future

By: Lincoln Ajoku
Español | Français

Given the rapid pace of change in the development and uptake of digital and emerging technologies, civil society will need to evolve, and the World Economic Forum ...

Failure to act: getting ahead of technological threats to democracy

By: Laura Rosenberger
Deutsch

Adversaries of democracy are deliberately targeting free speech, and democratic nations must get ahead of the technology curve in order to be proactive about these ...

Blockchain technologies offer transparency that could improve human rights practices

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 efficient ways.

Beyond Internet access: seeking knowledge justice online

By: Kira Allmann & Anasuya Sengupta
Español | العربية

Most debates around the internet and human rights focus on narrowing the digital divide and facilitating freedom of expression. But a human rights-based approach ...

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

By: Wafa Ben-Hassine & Dima Samaro
العربية | Français

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

A tech solution to documenting sexual violence

By: Suzanne Kidenda & Katy Johnson
Español | Français

A simple app, developed in close co-operation with clinicians, police and other end-users, is making it easier to effectively document and prosecute sexual assault ...

Why policymakers need to tackle the digital gender gap

By: Ana Brandusescu
Français

Tackling the digital gender gap means more than improving internet access—it means empowering women and girls to use online technology, preventing gender-based ...

How can AI amplify civic freedoms?

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 and protect and promote civic freedoms.

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

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 issues, in breach of international standards.

Tech companies’ inability to control fake news exacerbates violent acts

By: Jennifer Easterday & Hana Ivanhoe

In the absence of sufficient monitoring and ameliorative action on the part of the tech companies, fake news in Sri Lanka is provoking non-violent, law-abiding ...

Communications infrastructure in Palestine has become a tool of repression

By: Who Profits Research Center
العربية | Français

Restrictions on Palestinian mobile companies mean that Israeli companies reap profits from Palestinian customers, while Israel benefits from the resulting surveillance ...

Geospatial technology—done right—can improve human rights documentation

By: Theresa Harris
Español | العربية

With private corporations now the largest providers of satellite technology, human rights practitioners need to recognize the power—and the limits—of geospatial ...

What “datafication” means for the right to development

By: Anita Gurumurthy & Deepti Bharthur
Español | Français

Breakthroughs in technology—including artificial intelligence—can help fulfill the right to development, but digital technologies are not magic bullets; there is ...

Mitigating unfair bias in artificial intelligence

By: Bernard Shen
Español

Instead of choosing between humans-only systems and AI systems, leveraging the best of human values and ability as well as artificial intelligence promise greater ...

The corporations’ dilemma: navigating government access to information

By: Isabel Laura Ebert
Français | Deutsch

Technology can help to prevent conflict, but it can also facilitate human rights abuses, and companies that collect user data are in the middle of the debate.

New human rights principles on artificial intelligence

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 and application of machine learning technologies.

Risks and responsibilities of content moderation in online platforms

By: Richard Wingfield
Español

The issue of content moderation in online platforms has been missing in debates on business and human rights, but these platforms are critical in exercising our ...

What digital searches reveal about our engagement with rights

By: Rayyan Dabbous

Trends in Google searches show that most internet users are interested in the human rights during crises or policy changes, often due to media prompting. How do ...

Bringing justice close: an experiment in accessing justice with technology

By: Shreya Sen
हिन्दी

Legal empowerment enables poor and marginalized communities to be partners in development and decision-making, and new technologies make it possible for women in ...

Without binding rules, AI guidelines are just wishful thinking

By: Emre Eren Korkmaz
Türkçe | Español

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

A gender lens is critical to resolving tech-enabled abuse

By: Michelle Lau-Burke & Callie Strickland

Technology can raise awareness and spark collective action, but it can also deepen gender divides and provide platforms for harassment. How can ICT companies better ...

Embedding digital security in feminist movement building

By: Jennifer Radloff
العربية | Français | Español

Strengthening the resilience of the women’s rights movement requires feminists to place digital security firmly at the center of our engagement with the internet.

AI insights into human rights are meaningless without action

By: Samir Goswami
Español

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

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

By: Matthew Fenech
Español | Français

Algorithms have long aided decision-making, but as artificial intelligence gains greater autonomy, businesses need guidelines and regulations to ensure that this ...

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

By: Emre Eren Korkmaz
Türkçe | Español | Français

Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming business models, but labor rights and other human rights issues are often lost amidst these quick changes. Can we ...

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

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 can guide responsible behavior without stifling innovation?

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

By: Afsaneh Rigot
العربية | فارسی

Repressive states are manipulating dating apps to find and target LGBTQ individuals, and app companies must take responsibility for reducing the risks to their ...

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

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 and companies make will often determine the difference.

FIFA 2018: digital rights are (finally) playable

By: Peter Micek
العربية

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