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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Upcoming Events

2022 Feb 17

Human Rights and the Smart City

4:00pm to 5:00pm

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...

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Select Publications

Humanitarian Digital Ethics: A Foresight and Decolonial Governance Approach

Citation:

Aarathi Krishnan. 1/20/2022. “Humanitarian Digital Ethics: A Foresight and Decolonial Governance Approach.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. Publisher's Version
Humanitarian Digital Ethics: A Foresight and Decolonial Governance Approach

Abstract:

Just as rights are not static, neither is harm. The humanitarian system has always been critiqued as arguably colonial and patriarchal. As these systems increasingly intersect with Western, capitalist technology systems in the race of “for good” technology, how do governance systems ethically anticipate harm, not just now but into the future? Can humanitarian governance systems design mitigation or subversion mechanisms to not lock people into future harm, future inequity, or future indebtedness because of technology design and intervention? Instead of looking at digital governance in terms of control, weaving in foresight and decolonial approaches might liberate our digital futures so that it is a space of safety and humanity for all, and through this, birth new forms of digital humanism. 

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author/date: Aarathi Krishnan | Jan 10 2022
teaser text: How do governance systems build a digital future that is a space of safety and humanity for all?
Last updated on 01/20/2022

Companies as Courts? Google's Role Deciding Digital Human Rights Outcomes in the Right to be Forgotten

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Abstract:

One of the unwritten rules of the internet is that it was designed to never forget, a feature associated with emerging privacy harms from the availability of personal information captured online. Before the advent of search engines, discovering personal histories would have required hours of sifting through library records. Search engines present the opportunity to find immense amounts of personal details within seconds through a few simple keystrokes. When individuals experience privacy harms, they have limited recourse to demand changes from firms, as platform companies are in the business of making information more accessible.

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author/date: Rachel Ann Hulvey | Jan 10 2022
teaser text: One of the unwritten rules of the internet is that it was designed to never forget, but this creates challenges for individuals who experience privacy harms and find they have limited recourse to demand changes.
Last updated on 01/11/2022

Human Rights Implications of Algorithmic Impact Assessments: Priority Considerations to Guide Effective Development and Use

Human Rights Implications of Algorithmic Impact Assessments: Priority Considerations to Guide Effective Development and Use

Abstract:

The public and private sectors are increasingly turning to the use of algorithmic or artificial intelligence impact assessments (AIAs) as a means to identify and mitigate harms from AI. While promising, lack of clarity on the proper scope, methodology, and best practices for AIAs could inadvertently perpetuate the harms they seek to mitigate, especially to human rights. We explore the emerging integration of the human rights legal framework into AI governance strategies, including the implementation of human rights impacts assessments (HRIAs) to assess AI. The benefits and drawbacks from recent implementations of AIAs and HRIAs to assess AI adopted by the public and private sectors are explored and considered in the context of an emerging trend toward the development of standards, certifications, and regulatory technologies for responsible AI governance practices. We conclude with priority considerations to better ensure that AIAs and their corresponding responsible AI governance strategies live up to their promise.

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author/date: Nonnecke & Dawson | Oct 21 2021
teaser text: Lack of clarity on the proper scope, methodology, and best practices for algorithmic or AI impact assessments could inadvertently perpetuate the harms they seek to mitigate.
Last updated on 10/25/2021
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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