Carr Center Discussion Papers

Media Freedom and Technological Change
Vivek Krishnamurthy, Mark Latonero, Rachel Kuchma, Elif Nur Kumru, and Geneviève Plumptre. 8/11/2021. “Media Freedom and Technological Change.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

The concept of media freedom developed in the 20th century alongside efforts to advance governmental transparency and accountability in democracies. Media freedom empowers journalists, enabling them to act as checks on governments and other powerful social actors, and allowing them to contribute to a democratic discourse that is fact-based and accessible. The principle also provides an analytical framework for interrogating the central role that the news media plays in democratic societies. Even so, current understandings of media freedom remain rooted in the historical postwar moment that gave rise to the concept: a period that predates the information revolution and the proliferation of new communications technologies.

Technological change has transformed the economics of the news industry and undermined the ad-supported business models of legacy media organizations. This destabilization poses a fundamental challenge to the old model of media freedom, forcing questions of who today is entitled to media freedom and whether current media freedom protections are sufficient. To ensure the ongoing relevance of media freedom, the concept must evolve to address the contemporary conditions of news production, and the new impediments to gathering and disseminating fact-based information in the public interest.

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Artificial Intelligence and the Past, Present, and Future of Democracy
Mathias Risse. 7/28/2021. “Artificial Intelligence and the Past, Present, and Future of Democracy.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

Located at the intersection of political philosophy, philosophy of technology and political history, this essay reflects on medium and long-term prospects and challenges for democracy that arise from AI, emphasizing how critical a stage this is. Modern democracies involve structures for collective choice that periodically empower relatively few people to steer the social direction for everybody. As in all forms of governance, technology shapes how this unfolds. Specialized AI changes what philosophers of technology would call the materiality of democracy, not just in the sense that independent actors deploy different tools. AI changes how collective decision making unfolds and what its human participants are like (how they see themselves in relation to their environment, what relationships they have and how those are designed, and generally what form of human life can get realized). AI and democracy are not “natural allies:” it takes active design choices and much political will for AI so serve democratic purposes.

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The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Panel Discussion
The Carr Center Human Rights for Policy. 6/8/2021. “The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Panel Discussion .” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. Read the Discussion.Abstract

May 31, 2021, marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when a violent white mob nearly destroyed the formerly thriving and prosperous African American community in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, also known as Black Wall Street. Over 300 African Americans were killed, and thousands were displaced. Hundreds of homes and businesses burned to the ground. At the time, Greenwood, like so many African American neighborhoods and townships across the United States, was situated in a particular spatial and temporal context marked by both progress and promise, as well as violence and discrimination.

In the decades since, the Massacre was covered up, local officials obstructed the redevelopment of Greenwood, and the local chapter of the KKK became one of the largest in the US. We spoke with a group of leaders, policymakers, academics, and researchers to discuss the historical legacy of the Massacre, its effects on current-day policy and organizing debates related to racial justice, and the movement for reparations. We spoke with a group of leaders, policymakers, academics, and researchers to discuss the historical legacy of the Massacre, its effects on current-day policy and organizing debates related to racial justice, and the movement for reparations. Read the discussion

The Promise and Pitfalls of the Facebook Oversight Board
Flynn Coleman, Brandie Nonnecke, and Elizabeth M. Renieris. 5/6/2021. “The Promise and Pitfalls of the Facebook Oversight Board.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. Read the Discussion.Abstract

The Facebook Oversight Board recently issued its first decisions on content removals by Facebook. See what some of the Carr Center Technology and Human Rights Fellows had to say about the benefits, challenges, and risks of external oversight boards for platform governance and accountability.

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Biden's 100 Days
Carr Center Human Rights for Policy. 4/29/2021. “Biden's 100 Days.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

We asked faculty and fellows from the Carr Center to share their insight on the first 100 days of the Biden Administration. Here's what they had to say


Data as Collectively Generated Patterns: Making Sense of Data Ownership
Mathias Risse. 4/26/2021. “Data as Collectively Generated Patterns: Making Sense of Data Ownership.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

Data ownership is power. Who should hold that power? How should data be owned?  The importance of data ownership explains why it has been analogized to other domains where ownership is better understood. Several data-as proposals are on the table: data as oil, as intellectual property, as personhood, as salvage, data as labor, etc. Author Mathias Risse proposes another way of thinking about data.  His view characterizes data in ways that make them accessible to ownership considerations and can be expressed as a data-as view: data as collectively generated patterns. Unlike the alternatives, data as collectively generated patterns does not create any equivalence with another domain where ownership is already well-understood. It reveals how ownership considerations enter, but we must explore afresh how they do. Accordingly, he proposes a way for ownership considerations to bear on data once we understand them that way. And if we did understand them that way, the internet should presumably be designed very differently from what we have now. 


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Rethinking the “necessary” trade-offs of distributing value to suppliers: An analysis of the profit-sharing model
Elizabeth A. Bennett and Janina Grabs. 4/7/2021. “Rethinking the “necessary” trade-offs of distributing value to suppliers: An analysis of the profit-sharing model.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

Far too often, global supply chains distribute value in ways that contribute to income inequality and the uneven accumulation of wealth. Despite a surge of innovations to address this problem—such as fair trade, corporate social responsibility, and creating shared value—the issue of value distribution persists as a pressing priority for the international development and business communities. This article puts forth a first attempt at theorizing profit sharing as a potential mechanism for more equitable value distribution in global value chains. Drawing on two in-depth, multi-method case studies of companies that share profits in the coffee sector, we develop eight theoretical propositions about the applicability and efficacy of profit sharing as a tool for redistribution. Our research suggests that profit sharing can distribute value without requiring suppliers to compromise price stability, profit maximization, value creation, or alternative economic opportunities. This conclusion challenges extant theory which asserts (based on studies of fair trade certification, direct trade, and solidarity trade) that these tradeoffs are typically necessary or inevitable. We also extend the literature on profit sharing. Extant literature examines firm-level attempts to maximize productivity and minimize dissent. We contribute by theorizing profit sharing’s fitness for redistributive objectives in the context of value chains. The implication of our findings is that, in some contexts, companies may be able to increase prices and improve income stability without requiring suppliers to compromise other economic priorities.

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Human Rights Impact Assessments for AI: Learning from Facebook’s Failure in Myanmar
Mark Latonero and Aaina Agarwal. 3/19/2021. “Human Rights Impact Assessments for AI: Learning from Facebook’s Failure in Myanmar.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.Abstract

Human rights impact assessments (HRIAs) have recently emerged as a way for technology companies to identify, mitigate, and remedy the potential risks and harms of artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic systems. The purpose of this paper is to assess whether HRIAs are a tool fit for purpose for AI. Will HRIAs become an effective tool of AI governance that reduces risks and harms? Or, will they become a form of AI “ethics washing” that permits companies to hide behind a veneer of human rights due diligence and accountability? This paper finds that HRIAs of AI are only in their infancy. Simply conducting such assessments with the usual methods will miss the mark for AI and algorithmic systems, as demonstrated by the failures of the HRIA of Facebook in Myanmar. Facebook commissioned an HRIA after UN investigators found that genocide was committed in the country. However, the HRIA did not adequately assess the most salient human rights impacts of Facebook’s presence and product in Myanmar. HRIAs should be updated if they are to be used on AI and algorithmic systems. HRIAs for AI should be seen as an analysis of a sociotechnical system wherein social and technical factors are inherently intertwined and interrelated. Interdisciplinary expertise is needed to determine the appropriate methods and criteria for specific contexts where AI systems are deployed. In addition, HRIAs should be conducted at appropriate times relative to critical stages in an AI development lifecycle and function on an ongoing basis as part of a comprehensive human rights due diligence process. Challenges remain, such as developing methods to identify algorithmic discrimination as one of the most salient human rights concerns when it comes to assessing AI harms. In addition, a mix of voluntary actions and mandatory measures may be needed to incentivize organizations to incorporate HRIAs for AI and algorithmic systems in a more effective, transparent, and accountable way. The paper concludes with considerations for the technology sector, government, and civil society.

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Documentation as Resistance Against Widespread Civilian Harm in Yemen
Niku Jafarnia. 3/12/2021. “Documentation as Resistance Against Widespread Civilian Harm in Yemen.” Topol Fellow Discussion Paper. See full text.Abstract


The efforts by Yemeni civil society to document the harms of the war as they occur are a powerful act of resistance and are critical to advancing justice for the Yemenis against whom these harms have been perpetrated, in whatever form that justice may ultimately take.


The Yemeni Civil War broke out in 2014 following a failed political transition in the aftermath of the 2011 Yemeni Revolution. The Revolution had resulted in the ouster of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled North Yemen and—after North and South Yemen joined—the Republic of Yemen, for more than three decades. However, several groups—including the Houthi movement in northern Yemen—opposed the new government that had formed under Saleh’s former vice president, now current President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. The Houthis attacked and took over the Yemeni capital of Sana’a in the fall of 2014, and several months later, Saudi Arabia responded with a military intervention to re-install the Hadi government, resulting in the civil war that continues to devastate Yemen today.

Since then, it has been deemed the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” Though the Hadi-led Yemeni government and the Houthi-led insurgency are the central parties to the conflict, more than a dozen countries have provided support to one of the sides. Most importantly, a Saudi-led coalition of countries (the “Saudi Led Coalition”), including the U.S., is backing the government, while Iran is providing support to the Houthis. The respective resources of the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other countries have contributed to the high rate of civilian casualties, the millions of people at risk of starvation, and the widespread violations of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in the Yemeni conflict. In spite of this, no party to the conflict has transparently addressed the number of civilian casualties, nor the broader violations of IHL and IHRL, resulting from their operations, and have instead denied their role in the harms being perpetrated against Yemeni civilians.

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Freedom of Speech and Media
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/15/2021. “Freedom of Speech and Media.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 013. See full text.Abstract

The First Amendment guarantees some of the most fundamental rights provided to Americans under the Constitution. The right to free expression is a foundational tenet of American values. In fact, it was the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the press that provided much of the basis for the revolution that led to America’s founding. The First Amendment provides broad protection from government censure of speech, although limitations on some forms of published or broadcast speech, such as obscenity and hate speech, have been allowed. 

As the traditional public square governed and protected by federal regulation moves online to spaces governed by private corporations, the rules for how speech is both expressed and censored are also changing. How should legal protections for speech adapt to these new tech-powered, private forums? This chapter will explore the current landscape of free speech and the associated information landscape as well as the threats that they face. 

Read the full paper. 

See other issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series. 

Gun Rights and Public Safety
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/12/2021. “Gun Rights and Public Safety.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 12. See full text. Abstract

In March 2018, hundreds of thousands of young people walked out of school and marched on their local statehouses and on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to advocate for stricter controls on gun sales and ownership. The March for Our Lives was initially organized by students at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a school shooting had killed 17 students. Collectively, the marches were the largest-ever protest against gun violence, and one of the largest protests of any kind in American history.


The growing consensus over the need for some “common-sense” gun laws to regulate the sale and ownership of firearms stands in sharp contrast to the incendiary rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, which has sounded the alarm in recent years that Democrats are coming to “take away” guns or institute a national registry of firearm ownership. Indeed, the reasonableness on both sides of the debate implies that there is a middle-ground that can be achieved to limit gun violence in the United States, while still allowing for responsible ownership of firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and personal protection. 

Read the article. 

See the full Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series. 


Equal Access to Public Goods and Services
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 2/2/2021. “Equal Access to Public Goods and Services.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 009. See full text.Abstract

A right of equal access to public goods and services is rooted in the rights to ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ With these rights, the Declaration of Independence asserts the concept of equality as a founding principle, while nearly a century later in the nation’s “second founding” after the Civil War, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution goes further in guaranteeing equal protection of the law. These documents create the principle from which a right of equal access is derived, including access to education, health care, housing, and environmental protection.

Throughout American history, the concepts of liberty and equality have been intertwined but also conflicted. 

Current trends within public education, health care, housing, and environmental protection reflect burgeoning disparities in opportunity. Public policy in recent years has centered around the promotion of macroeconomic growth but has done little to guarantee individual and societal well-being, reinforcing the focus of the private sector on maximizing shareholder value, often at the expense of employees and consumers. These policies have exacerbated the inequality of access to public goods and services, such as health and education, among significant portions of the population, who lack the agency and the opportunity to sustain themselves. It is critical that the United States responds to the public health and economic crises by protecting liberty, equality, and securing equal access to public goods and services.

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Are Rights and Religion Orthogonal?
Richard Parker. 12/2/2020. “Are Rights and Religion Orthogonal?” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-13. See full text.Abstract

Talking about “rights” is to talk about a fundamental cornerstone of our democracy, our system of law, our ethics, and—perhaps most deeply—our identity.

One of the rights we Americans customarily consider ours is “our right to religious freedom,” which, as enshrined in the First Amendment, is not one but two important correlate rights– our individual right to worship (or not) as we please, and our collective right (and duty) to prohibit any sort of government favoritism toward (or disfavoring of) any organized religion.

In his paper, author Richard Parker weaves the history and evolution of religious freedom into the context of human rights.  

Read the full text. 

Mass Incarceration and The Future: An Urgent Need to Address the Human Rights Implications of Criminal Background Checks and the Future of Artificial Intelligence
Teresa Y. Hodge and Laurin Leonard. 7/17/2020. “Mass Incarceration and The Future: An Urgent Need to Address the Human Rights Implications of Criminal Background Checks and the Future of Artificial Intelligence.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-009. See full text.Abstract
Between 70 and 100 million Americans—one in three— currently live with a criminal record. This number is expected to rise above 100 million by the year 2030.

The criminal justice system in the U.S. has over-incarcerated its citizen base; we have 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prison population. America became known as the “incarceration nation” because our prison and jail population exploded from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today, which became a social phenomenon known as mass incarceration. And along the way, there was a subsequent boom in querying databases for data on citizens with criminal records.

Once a person comes in contact with the U.S. criminal justice system, they begin to develop an arrest and/or conviction record. This record includes data aggregated from various databases mostly, if not exclusively, administered by affiliated government agencies. As the prison population grew, the number of background check companies rose as well. The industry has grown and continues to do so with very little motivation to wrestle with morality, data integrity standards, or the role of individual rights.

This paper address the urgent need to look towards a future where background screening decisions and artificial intelligence collide.

Read full paper here. 


Reimagining Reality: Human Rights and Immersive Technology
Brittan Heller. 6/12/2020. “Reimagining Reality: Human Rights and Immersive Technology.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-008. See full text.Abstract

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.

Examining the Ethics of Immunity Certificates
Carr Center. 6/1/2020. “Examining the Ethics of Immunity Certificates.” Carr Center Covid-19 Discussion Paper Series, 05. Read full text.Abstract

Carr Center faculty and fellows examine the human rights implications and legal ramifications of introducing widespread immunity passports. In this latest issue, hear from Mark Latonero, Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center and Research Lead at Data & Society, Elizabeth Renieris, a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Carr Center and founder of hackylawyER, and Mathias Risse, Faculty Director at the Carr Center.  

Read their discussion here. 

From Unalienable Rights to Membership Rights in the World Society
Mathias Risse. 12/11/2019. “From Unalienable Rights to Membership Rights in the World Society.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series (2019-009). See full text.Abstract

The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy launched an ambitious initiative in the fall of 2019 to advance the renewal of rights and responsibilities in the United States. The initiative aims to develop research and policy recommendations around six broad themes of concern: democratic process; due process of law; equal protection; freedom of speech, religion, and association; human sustainability; and privacy.

In the most recent Carr Center Discussion Paper, Mathias Risse looks at the Pompeo Commission as a jumping off point to reexamine the distinction between natural law, natural rights, and human rights in the modern day.

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Technological Revolution, Democratic Recession and Climate Change: The Limits of Law in a Changing World
Luís Roberto Barroso. 9/9/2019. Technological Revolution, Democratic Recession and Climate Change: The Limits of Law in a Changing World. Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. 2019009th ed. Cambridge: Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Publisher's VersionAbstract
 Law is a universal institution that has pretensions of being ubiquitous and complete. However, in a complex, plural and volatile world, its limits and possibilities are shaken by the speed, depth and extent of ongoing transformations, its resulting ethical dilemmas, and the difficulties of forming consensus in the political universe.

This article provides a reflection on how the Law has attempted to deal with some of the main afflictions of our time, facing demands that include the needs to (i) keep the technological revolution on an ethical and humanistic track, (ii) avoid that democracy be perverted by populist and authoritarian adventures and (iii) prevent solutions to climate change from coming only when it is too late. At a time when even the near future has become unpredictable, Law cannot provide a priori solutions to multiplying problems and anxieties. When this happens, we must set clear goals for the future of humanity, basing them on the essential and perennial values that have followed us since antiquity.

On the Future of Human Rights. CCPD 2019-008.
Sherif Elsayed-Ali. 7/12/2019. On the Future of Human Rights. CCPD 2019-008.. Carr Center for Human Rights. See full text.Abstract

The human rights framework has had many successes in the 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, but is still relevant to today’s challenges?

In the last few years, human rights practitioners have raised the alarm on what seems like sustained attacks on human rights from some governments. But there is a bigger threat to the future of human rights: that people could see them as less relevant to their lives. My aim is to provide a constructive critique of human rights practice and messaging, together with three main proposals: 1. putting climate change at the top of the human rights agenda; 2. significantly increasing the amount of work on Economic, Social and Cultural (ESC) rights undertaken by human rights advocacy and campaigning organizations, and 3. adopting a system-analysis and solutions-based approach to human rights. 

Half a Century After Malcolm X Came to Visit: Reflections on the Thin Presence of African Thought in Global Justice Debates.
Mathias Risse. 4/17/2019. Half a Century After Malcolm X Came to Visit: Reflections on the Thin Presence of African Thought in Global Justice Debates.. Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. 2019007th ed. Cambridge: Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. See full text.Abstract
What would it mean for there to be a genuinely and legitimately global discourse on justice that involves Africa in authentic ways?

There are various responses. On the one hand, there is the idea of “philosophical fieldwork” developed by Katrin Flikschuh. African thought that fell by the wayside due to European expansionism must be recuperated and inserted into that discourse. On the other hand, there is the world society approach pioneered by John Meyer and others. The point is that ideas  from elsewhere in the world can be genuinely and legitimately appropriated, which is how ideas have always spread. Once ideas about justice are appropriated by African thinkers, they are associated with Africa as much as with any other region. My goal here is to explore both approaches and support the second, while also making room for the first. In doing so, I articulate a view about how my own ongoing work on global justice can be seen as a contribution to an actual global discourse. There are rather large (and sensitive) issues at stake here: how to think about respectful appropriation of ideas and thus respectful philosophical discourse.  A great deal of nuance is needed.