Technology & Human Rights

Examining how technological advancements affect the future of human rights.

While recognizing the enormous progress that societies have made since the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, technological advancements have inevitably profound implications for the human rights framework.

From a practical perspective, technology can help move the human rights agenda forward. For instance, the use of satellite data can monitor the flow of displaced people; artificial intelligence can assist with image recognition to gather data on rights abuses; and the use of forensic technology can reconstruct crime scenes and hold perpetrators accountable. Yet for the multitude of areas in which emerging technologies advance the human rights agenda, technological developments have equal capacity to undermine efforts. From authoritarian states monitoring political dissidents by way of surveillance technologies, to the phenomenon of “deepfakes” destabilizing the democratic public sphere, ethical and policy-oriented implications must be taken into consideration with the development of technological innovations.  

Technological advancements also introduce new actors to the human rights framework. The movement has historically focused on the role of the state in ensuring rights and justice. Today, technological advancements and the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning, in particular, necessitate interaction, collaboration, and coordination with leaders from business and technology in addition to government.

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Reimagining Reality: Human Rights and Immersive Technology

Citation:

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

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.
 

: Brittan Heller | June 12 2020
: Exploring the human rights implications of virtual reality, augmented reality, and immersive technologies.
Last updated on 06/12/2020

Smart City Visions and Human Rights: Do They Go Together?

Citation:

Tina Kempin Reuter. 4/24/2020. “Smart City Visions and Human Rights: Do They Go Together?” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-006. See full text.
Smart City Visions and Human Rights: Do They Go Together?

Abstract:

Over half of the world’s population lives in cities today. According to the latest predictions, more than two thirds of all people will inhabit an urban environment by 2050. The number and size of cities has increased over the last decades, with the highest projections for future growth in the Global South. As cities continue to expand, so does their impact on policy generation, as political players, as drivers of states’ economies, and as hubs for social innovation and cultural exchange. Cities are important actors on the national and international stage, with mayors’ conferences, city grassroots organizations, and urban citizens driving the search for today’s most pressing problems, including climate change, inequity, migration, and human rights concerns. Many have expressed hope that “cities [will] deliver where nation states have failed.” Organizing this ever-growing, dynamic human space, enabling people from diverse backgrounds to live together, addressing the spatial and social challenges of urban life, and delivering services to inhabitants are challenges that cities have struggled with and that continue to dominate the urban policy agenda.
 

Read full text here. 

: Tina Kempin Reuter | April 24 2020
: Smart city solutions promise to solve a fundamental challenge of cities: how to foster economic growth and decrease costs while increasing resilience, sustainability, service production, participation, and quality of life.

The Ethical Use of Personal Data to Build Artificial Intelligence Technologies: A Case Study on Remote Biometric Identity Verification

The Ethical Use of Personal Data to Build Artificial Intelligence Technologies: A Case Study on Remote Biometric Identity Verification

Abstract:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have the capacity to do a great deal of good in the world, but whether they do so is not only dependent upon how we use those AI technologies but also how we build those AI technologies in the first place.

The unfortunate truth is that personal data has become the bricks and mortar used to build many AI technologies and more must be done to protect and safeguard the humans whose personal data is being used. Through a case study on AI-powered remote biometric identity verification, this paper seeks to explore the technical requirements of building AI technologies with high volumes of personal data and the implications of such on our understanding of existing data protection frameworks. Ultimately, a path forward is proposed for ethically using personal data to build AI technologies.

Read the paper here. 

: Neal Cohen | Apr 4 2020
: Tech Fellow Neal Cohen explores the biases and ethics of building AI technologies with personal data.
Last updated on 04/15/2020
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“Global civil society and transnational advocacy networks have played an important role in social movements and struggles for social change. Looking ahead, these movements need to coalesce around the impact of technology on society, in particular harnessing the promise, challenging the perils, and looking at maintaining public and private spheres that respect creativity, autonomy, diversity, and freedom of thought and expression.”

- Sushma Raman