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.

News and Announcements

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Study Group: Data Trusts | An Ethical Pathway to Protect the Human Rights of People Living with Criminal Convictions Impacted by Background Screening?

February 14, 2020

The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy invites you to join a study group on the urgent need to establish a human rights framework in criminal justice reform, which addresses mass incarceration in America.... Read more about Study Group: Data Trusts | An Ethical Pathway to Protect the Human Rights of People Living with Criminal Convictions Impacted by Background Screening?

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Upcoming Events

2021 Nov 18

Pandemics and Portals: Rights in an Era of Technological Innovation

4:00pm to 5:30pm

Location: 

Zoom Webinar (Registration Required)

Pandemics and Portals: Rights in an Era of Technological Innovation

Join the UCONN Human Rights Institute for the 2021 Annual Economic and Social Rights Lecture, featuring Sushma Raman. Sushma Raman is the Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She brings over two decades of global experience launching, scaling, and leading social justice and philanthropic programs and collaboratives, building capabilities of grassroots human rights organizations and their leaders, and teaching graduate courses in the public policy schools at Harvard Kennedy...

Read more about Pandemics and Portals: Rights in an Era of Technological Innovation
2021 Dec 07

Towards Life 3.0 with Dr. Jay Aronson

12:00pm to 1:00pm

Location: 

Virtual Event (Registration Required)

Towards Life 3.0: Ethics and Technology in the 21st Century is a talk series organized and facilitated by Dr. Mathias Risse, Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, and Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs, and Philosophy. Drawing inspiration from the title of Max Tegmark’s book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, the series draws upon a range of scholars, technology leaders, and public interest technologists to address the ethical aspects of the long-term impact of artificial intelligence on society and...

Read more about Towards Life 3.0 with Dr. Jay Aronson

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Select Publications

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

Public Health, Technology, and Human Rights: Lessons Learned from Digital Contact Tracing

Citation:

Maria Carnovale and Khahlil Louisy. 9/27/2021. “Public Health, Technology, and Human Rights: Lessons Learned from Digital Contact Tracing.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. See full text.
Public Health, Technology, and Human Rights: Lessons Learned from Digital Contact Tracing

Abstract:

To mitigate inefficiencies in manual contact tracing processes, Digital contact tracing and exposure notifications systems were developed for use as public-interest technologies during the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) global pandemic. Effective implementation of these tools requires alignment across several factors, including local regulations and policies and trust in government and public health officials. Careful consideration should also be made to minimize any potential conflicts with existing processes in public health, which has demonstrated effectiveness. Four unique cases—of Ireland, Guayaquil (Ecuador), Haiti, and the Philippines—detailed in this paper will highlight the importance of upholding the principles of Scientific Validity, Necessity, Time-Boundedness, and Proportionality.

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author/date: Maria Carnovale & Khahlil Louisy | Sep 27 2021
teaser text: Digital contact tracing and exposure notifications systems should be developed and implemented in line with the principles of scientific validity, necessity, time-boundedness, and proportionality.
Last updated on 09/28/2021

The Fourth Generation of Human Rights: Epistemic Rights in Digital Lifeworlds

The Fourth Generation of Human Rights: Epistemic Rights in Digital Lifeworlds

Abstract:

In contrast to China’s enormous efforts to upgrade its system of governance to a new technological level built around a stupefying amount of data collection and electronic scoring, countries committed to democracy and human rights did not upgrade their systems. Instead of adjusting democracy and human rights to the new technological possibilities, those countries ended up with surveillance capitalism. It is vital for the sheer survival of those ideas about governance to perform such an upgrade. The present project aims to contribute to that. I propose a framework of epistemic actorhood in terms of four roles, and characterize digital lifeworlds and what matters about them, in terms of both how they fit in with Max Tegmark’s distinction among various stages of human life and how they give rise to their own episteme and the data episteme, with its immense possibilities of infopower (vocabulary inspired by Foucault). A set of epistemic rights that strengthen existing human rights—as part of a fourth generation of rights—is needed to protect epistemic actorhood in those roles, which would be a long way towards performing this kind of upgrade. In the long run, as we progress into Life 3.0, we need a new kind of human right, the right to the exercise of genuinely human intelligence. The good news is that, to the extent that we can substantiate the meaning of human life in the uncaring world that natural science describes, we can substantiate such a right vis-à-vis nonhuman intelligent life. We must hope that arguments of this sort can persuade a superior intelligence—which is by definition, massively beyond ours, and hard to anticipate.

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author/date: Mathias Risse | Sep 17 2021
teaser text: Life 3.0 and the development of non-human intelligent life call for a fourth generation of human rights, including the the right to the exercise of genuinely human intelligence.
Last updated on 09/28/2021
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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