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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Conference Report: Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence

Citation:

Carr Center Human Rights for Policy. 1/1/2019. “Conference Report: Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence.” Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence. See full text.
Conference Report: Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence

Abstract:

Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence: Challenges for the Next 70 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

In early December 2018, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society hosted an inaugural conference that aimed to respond to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ 70th Anniversary by reflecting on the past, present and future of human rights. The conference was organized by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse.

: Carr Center for Human Rights Policy | Jan 1 2019
: Human Rights, Ethics, and Artificial Intelligence: Challenges for the Next 70 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 
Last updated on 02/03/2020

Is Your Phone Tainted by the Misery of the 35,000 Children in Congo's Mines?

Is Your Phone Tainted by the Misery of the 35,000 Children in Congo's Mines?

Abstract:

In his recent article in The Gaurdian, Senior Fellow Siddharth Kara discusses the human rights violations connected to the cobalt industry. 

My field research shows that children as young as six are among those risking their lives amid toxic dust to mine cobalt for the world’s big electronics firms  -Siddharth Kara, Senior Fellow, Carr Center

"Until recently, I knew cobalt only as a colour. Falling somewhere between the ocean and the sky, cobalt blue has been prized by artists from the Ming dynasty in China to the masters of French Impressionism. But there is another kind of cobalt, an industrial form that is not cherished for its complexion on a palette, but for its ubiquity across modern life.

This cobalt is found in every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet – from smartphones to tablets to laptops to electric vehicles. It is also used to fashion superalloys to manufacture jet engines, gas turbines and magnetic steel. You cannot send an email, check social media, drive an electric car or fly home for the holidays without using this cobalt. As I learned on a recent research trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this cobalt is not awash in cerulean hues. Instead, it is smeared in misery and blood."

Elodie is 15. Her two-month-old son is wrapped tightly in a frayed cloth around her back. He inhales potentially lethal mineral dust every time he takes a breath. Toxicity assaults at every turn; earth and water are contaminated with industrial runoff, and the air is brown with noxious haze. Elodie is on her own here, orphaned by cobalt mines that took both her parents. She spends the entire day bent over, digging with a small shovel to gather enough cobalt-containing heterogenite stone to rinse at nearby Lake Malo to fill one sack. It will take her an entire day to do so, after which Chinese traders will pay her about $0.65 (50p). Hopeless though it may be, it is her and her child’s only means of survival.

Read the full article in The Guardian.

: Siddharth Kara | Oct 12, 2018
: Siddharth Kara discusses the human rights violations connected to the cobalt industry. ​​​​​​​
Last updated on 01/23/2020

Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations.

Citation:

Sushma Raman and Steven Livingston. 5/15/2018. Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations.. Carr Center Discussion Paper Series. 003rd ed. Cambridge: Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. See full text.
Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations.

Abstract:

Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations:

 

We offer a theoretical framework for understanding the role of technological capabilities (affordances) in documenting war crimes and human rights abuses in limited access areas.  We focus on three digital affordances: geospatial, digital network, and digital forensic science.  The paper argues that by leveraging digital affordances, human rights groups gain access to otherwise inaccessible areas, or to information that has been degraded in an effort to obfuscate culpability.  We also argue that the use of digital technology invites a reassessment of what we mean when we speak of a human rights organization.  Organizational morphology in digital space is hybrid in nature, with traditional organizations also taking on or joining more virtual or solely digital forms.

Notes:

For Academic Citation:  Steven Livingston and Sushma Raman. Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas. CCDP 2018-003, May 2018.
 
: Sushma Raman et al. | May 15 2018
: Human Rights Documentation in Limited Access Areas: The Use of Technology in War Crimes and Human Rights Abuse Investigations:
Last updated on 01/24/2020
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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