Human Rights and the Pandemic: The Other Half of the Story

Citation:

Elizabeth M. Renieris. 10/2/2021. “Human Rights and the Pandemic: The Other Half of the Story.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.
Human Rights and the Pandemic: The Other Half of the Story

Abstract:

Human rights are a broad array of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights and freedoms that are universal and inalienable, inherent to the dignity of every human being. The application of human rights to digital technologies has generally focused on individual civil and political rights, such as the freedom of expression and privacy. However, as digital technologies evolve beyond traditional information and communications technologies to increasingly mediate access to everything from healthcare to employment, education, and participation in social and cultural life, an increasingly broad array of human rights are implicated. With humanity more reliant on digital tools and technologies than ever before, the stakes have never been more apparent than during the Covid-19 pandemic. Gripped by the magical potential of digital tools and technologies and the allure of simple solutions to complex governance challenges, governments and key stakeholders have adopted an exceedingly limited view of human rights in relation to these technologies, focusing almost exclusively on a narrow set of civil and political rights while virtually ignoring threats to economic, social, and cultural rights. For those already at the margins, this has exacerbated their digital exclusion. This paper calls for a more expansive view of human rights in relation to technology governance. After contextualizing the role of economic, social, and cultural rights in relation to digital technologies, this paper examines how such rights have been largely absent from the discourse around technologies deployed in the pandemic (“pandemic tech”), as well as the consequences of that omission. The paper then explores how a recalibration of human rights in relation to digital technologies, specifically pandemic tech, could help prevent geopolitical fracturing, reorient the conversation around people rather than technology, and provide a critical backstop against the runaway commercialization that threatens the exercise and enjoyment of fundamental rights by individuals and communities.

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author/date: Elizabeth M. Renieris | Oct 2 2021
teaser text: The pandemic has helped to expose a critical shortcoming in the current discourse around human rights in relation to the digital age: a lack of consideration for economic, social, and cultural rights.
Last updated on 10/03/2021