Reports & Papers

Voting Rights
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 11/6/2020. Voting Rights. Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States. 2020002nd ed. Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. Read the ReportAbstract

After more than a century of expanding the voting rights of previously disenfranchised groups, the American electoral system today is confronted by political and legal maneuvers to curtail the hard-won rights of these same groups, ostensibly in the name of combating fraud and regulating voting, but actually to change the outcome of elections. 

"Political campaigns to suppress or dilute votes corrode democracy, frustrate the popular will, and stimulate polarization."

Attacks on the integrity of the electoral system are not new. Throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century dominant political forces suppressed voting by African Americans and other minorities, women, immigrants, and young people. Manipulation of voting in the 20th century included racist suppression of African American votes, first by Democrats and later by Republicans. These practices are blatant examples of the vulnerability of the electoral process to partisan manipulation and the necessity of reform to safeguard voting rights, especially among these vulnerable groups.

In his timely addition to the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilites in the U.S. paper series, authors John Shattuck, Mathias Risse, and team outline the expansion of the vote through history, the disproportionate impact of voter suppression, and propose a set of policy recommendations accordingly.

Read the full report. 

See all the issues of the Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities paper series here



Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty
John Shattuck and Mathias Risse. 10/8/2020. “Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States: Toward a More Equal Liberty.” Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, 2020-01. See full text.Abstract

Americans today know they face threats to their rights, their democracy, their health and their economy. These threats are interrelated and demand a transformative response. Transformations have occurred at other pivotal moments in our nation’s history—at its founding during the American Revolution, its Reconstruction after the Civil War, its recovery from the Great Depression, its rise after World War II, and its reimagining during the Civil Rights Movement. Can today become a similar moment of transformation, turning threats into opportunities through the power of civic activism, voting, and government response? Can we reimagine the promise of rights that bind us together as a nation of diverse histories, identities, and lived experiences? 
With the release of their nonpartisan, evidence-based report, Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, researchers at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights provide a guide for the nation wrestling with its values. This blueprint for protecting and expanding citizens’ rights proposes policy changes to strengthen democratic processes; safeguard equal protection, equal opportunity, and due process of law; and better protect freedoms of speech, media, religion and privacy. The Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities Project is directed by John Shattuck, Carr Center Senior Fellow and former US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The report and the project are overseen by a faculty committee chaired by Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse.
The report offers an in-depth analysis of the state of rights in America in 2020, and then offers 80 recommendations to address failures to protect these rights. The Reimagining Rights team researched fifteen topics in five broad categories that are fundamental to protecting and expanding citizens’ rights. The Carr Center will continue to publish the fifteen reports in the coming months that expand upon specific rights domains in greater detail, including voting rights, money in politics, civic education, racial equality, women’s rights, and other areas of research. Sign up for our newsletter and follow our social media channels to stay up-to-date as we release each report.

Read the Executive Summary.


Read the Additional Reports: 

  1. Voting Rights
  2. Money in Politics
  3. Civic Education
  4. Racial Discrimination
  5. Women's Rights
  6. LGBTQ+ Rights
  7. Disability Rights
  8. Equal Access
  9. Immigration
  10. Criminal Justice & Public Safety
  11. Gun Rights & Public Safety
  12. Freedom of Speech & Media
  13. Religious Freedom
  14. Hate Crimes
  15. Privacy, Personal Data, and Surveillance
Dangerous Science: Might Population Genetics or Artificial Intelligence Undermine Philosophical Ideas about Equality?
Mathias Risse. 8/17/2020. “Dangerous Science: Might Population Genetics or Artificial Intelligence Undermine Philosophical Ideas about Equality?” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-010. See full text.Abstract

This paper was prepared for an interdisciplinary conference on Gefährliche Forschung? (Dangerous Science?) held at the University of Cologne in February 2020 and is scheduled to appear in a volume of contributions from that event edited by Wilfried Hinsch and Susanne Brandstätter, the organizers, and to be published by de Gruyter. The paper delves into the question proposed to me—might population genetics or artificial intelligence undermine philosophical ideas about equality—without locating the context of this debate or offering a preview of its contents. The first section discusses the ideal of equality, the next two talk about genetics in the context of responses to racism, and the remaining two speak about possible changes that might come from the development of general Artificial Intelligence.

Read full text here

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. 


From Rationality to Relationality: Ubuntu as an Ethical and Human Rights Framework for Artificial Intelligence Governance
Sabelo Mhlambi. 7/8/2020. “From Rationality to Relationality: Ubuntu as an Ethical and Human Rights Framework for Artificial Intelligence Governance.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-009. See full text.Abstract

What is the measure of personhood and what does it mean for machines to exhibit human-like qualities and abilities? Furthermore, what are the human rights, economic, social, and political implications of using machines that are designed to reproduce human behavior and decision making? The question of personhood is one of the most fundamental questions in philosophy and it is at the core of the questions, and the quest, for an artificial or mechanical personhood. 

The development of artificial intelligence has depended on the traditional Western view of personhood as rationality. However, the traditional view of rationality as the essence of personhood, designating how humans, and now machines, should model and approach the world, has always been marked by contradictions, exclusions, and inequality. It has shaped Western economic structures (capitalism’s free markets built on colonialism’s forced markets), political structures (modernity’s individualism imposed through coloniality), and discriminatory social hierarchies (racism and sexism as institutions embedded in enlightenment-era rationalized social and gender exclusions from full person status and economic, political, and social participation), which in turn shape the data, creation, and function of artificial intelligence. It is therefore unsurprising that the artificial intelligence industry reproduces these dehumanizations. Furthermore, the perceived rationality of machines obscures machine learning’s uncritical imitation of discriminatory patterns within its input data, and minimizes the role systematic inequalities play in harmful artificial intelligence outcomes.

Read the full paper.

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. 

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

Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule
Erica Chenoweth. 4/20/2020. “Questions, Answers, and Some Cautionary Updates Regarding the 3.5% Rule.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-005. See full text.Abstract
The “3.5% rule” refers to the claim that no government has withstood a challenge of 3.5% of their population mobilized against it during a peak event. In this brief paper, author Erica Chenoweth addresses some of the common questions about the 3.5% rule, as well as several updates from more recent work on this topic.

Four key takeaways are as follows:

  • The 3.5% figure is a descriptive statistic based on a sample of historical movements. It is not necessarily a prescriptive one, and no one can see the future. Trying to achieve the threshold without building a broader public constituency does not guarantee success in the future.
  • The 3.5% participation metric may be useful as a rule of thumb in most cases; however, other factors—momentum, organization, strategic leadership, and sustainability—are likely as important as large-scale participation in achieving movement success and are often precursors to achieving 3.5% participation.
  • New research suggests that one nonviolent movement, Bahrain in 2011-2014, appears to have decisively failed despite achieving over 6% popular participation at its peak. This suggests that there has been at least one exception to the 3.5% rule, and that the rule is a tendency, rather than a law.
  • Large peak participation size is associated with movement success. However, most mass nonviolent movements that have succeeded have done so even without achieving 3.5% popular participation. 

Read the full paper. 

Upholding Non-Discrimination Principles in the Covid-19 Outbreak
Jacqueline Bhabha, Laura Cordisco-Tsai, Teresa Hodge, and Laurin Leonard. 4/10/2020. “Upholding Non-Discrimination Principles in the Covid-19 Outbreak.” Carr Center Covid-19 Discussion Paper Series, 03. See full text.Abstract
Carr Center faculty and fellows discuss how we can employ principles of non-discrimination to address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable communities.

In our third Covid-19 Discussion Paper, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Jacqueline Bhabha; Technology and Human Rights Fellows Laurin Leonard and Teresa Hodge; and Carr Center Fellow, Laura Cordisco-Tsai, outline how Covid-19 disproportionately impacts the world's most vulnerable communities. From prison populations to survivors of human trafficking, "Vulnerable communities often are not positioned to ensure their human rights are preserved in times of a crisis—they are often a historical afterthought."

Read the full text here. 

The Ethical Use of Personal Data to Build Artificial Intelligence Technologies: A Case Study on Remote Biometric Identity Verification
Neal Cohen. 4/4/2020. “The Ethical Use of Personal Data to Build Artificial Intelligence Technologies: A Case Study on Remote Biometric Identity Verification.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-004. See full text.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. 

Remarks Before the Commission on Unalienable Rights
Martha Minow. 3/17/2020. “Remarks Before the Commission on Unalienable Rights.” Carr Center Discussion Paper Series, 2020-003. See full text.Abstract
In her address to the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights, Martha Minow discusses the meaning and implications of human rights. 

"Please accept my thanks for the invitation to speak with you and for your service on this important effort. Grappling with the meaning and implications of human rights is a task that no one generation can complete; comprehension, validation, and commitment require investment of renewing thought and action even though human rights are described as self-evident and eternal. In fact, the reasons why individual nations and even individual people subscribe to notions of human rights vary enormously—and range from idealism to realpolitik—as do their justifications and rationales, which sound in such competing registers as religion, social contract, nature, utility, and game theory.  As I will explain, respect for the dignity of each person offers a core basis for human rights in both substance and in attitudes of respect and civility even when we disagree. Your admirable effort to trace ideas about human rights to deep histories and understandings of eternal truths should underscore the importance of engagement with other nations and multinational convenings as we all face unprecedented challenges to human dignity."


Read full address, here. 

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.

Digital Identity in the Migration & Refugee Context: Italy Case Study
Mark Latonero, Keith Hiatt, Antonella Napolitano, Giulia Clericetti, and Melanie Penagos. 4/2019. Digital Identity in the Migration & Refugee Context: Italy Case Study. Data & Society. Data & Society. See full text.Abstract
New Report by Carr Center Technology and Human Rights Fellow Mark Latonero.

"Increasingly, governments, corporations, international organizations, and nongov-ernmental organizations (NGOs) are seeking to use digital technologies to track the identities of migrants and refugees. This surging interest in digital identity technologies would seem to meet a pressing need: the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states that in today’s modern world, lacking proof of identity can limit a person’s access to services and socio-economic participation, including employment opportunities, housing, a mobile phone, and a bank account. But this report argues that the tech-nologies and processes involved in digital identity will not provide easy solutions in the migration and refugee context. Technologies that rely on identity data introduce a new sociotechnical layer that may exacerbate existing biases, discrimination, or power imbalances.How can we weigh the added value of digital identification systems against the potential risks and harms to migrant safety and fundamental human rights? This report provides international organizations, policymakers, civil society, technologists, and funders with a deeper background on what we currently know about digital identity and how migrant identity data is situated in the Italian context. "