The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
The recent conviction of the journalist Maria Ressa in the Philippines for “cyber libel” has brought into sharp relief the global deterioration of press freedom. Across the world, fundamental freedoms of association, expression, and assembly are under threat. A recent report from Civicus found that twice as many people live under repression today as a year ago. Although much of that is due to diminishing freedoms in countries whose governments have long been known for their heavy hands, an increasing number of attacks on the media have come in places where press freedom was once enshrined.
The Black Lives Matter protests have been shaking up not just conversations about policing, but also almost every industry — including journalism. As Washington Post media reporters Paul Farhi and Sarah Ellison wrote this weekend, “Like the nation itself, news organizations across the country are facing a racial reckoning, spurred by protests from their own journalists.”
This paper explores the human rights implications of emergent technology, and focuses on virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and immersive technologies. Because of the psychological and physiological aspects of immersive technologies, and the potential for a new invasive class of privacy-related harms, she argues that content creators, hardware producers, and lawmakers should take increased caution to protect users. This will help protect the nascent industry in a changing legal landscape and help ensure that the beneficial uses of this powerful technology outweigh the potential misuses.
In the paper, Heller first reviews the technology and terminology around immersive technologies to explain how they work, how a user’s body and mind are impacted by the hardware, and what social role these technologies can play for communities. Next she describes some of the unique challenges for immersive media, from user safety to misalignment with current biometrics laws. She introduces a new concept, biometric psychography, to explain how the potential for privacy-related harms is different in immersive technologies, due to the ability to connect your identity to your innermost thoughts, wants, and desires. Finally, she describe foreseeable developments in the immersive industry, with an eye toward identifying and mitigating future human rights challenges. The paper concludes with five recommendations for actions that the industry and lawmakers can take now, as the industry is still emerging, to build human rights into its DNA.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse