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Technology & Human Rights

Collaborating partners: OpenGlobalRights and University of Washington Rule of Law Initiative

Technology can be a powerful tool for human rights. Newer technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain have the potential to make significant positive contributions to the promotion and protection of human rights. At the same time, rapid developments in artificial intelligence, automation and robotics raise serious questions about potential impacts on human rights and the future of work, as well as who will benefit and lose from their expansion.

This blog series explores the human rights risks posed by new and emerging technologies, the role of business, and how the human rights field can respond.

For the latest news and resources regarding technology and human rights, visit our technology and human rights portal.


Systemic bias in data models is a human rights issue

The tech industry must engage with those affected by data errors and embedded discrimination to avoid systemic bias in data models.

Isabel Laura Ebert & Thorsten Busch, University of St. Gallen



Facebook’s new recipe: too much optimism, not enough human rights

Because social media platforms dominate public forums worldwide, a governance system rooted in “social values” instead of human rights may be convenient for companies, but it is deeply unsatisfactory in terms of protecting users.

Stefania De Stefano, Geneva Academy of International Humanitariam Law and Human Rights


When technology facilitates ICE raids that violate rights, who is responsible?

Palantir has argued that its technology does not play an active role in deportations and the human rights violations that have occurred under the Trump administration, but this claim is patently false.

Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente


Social media complicates mainstream media goals

Freedom of expression demands and facilitates the development of pluralistic media landscapes. But as more people get personalized news feeds from social media, how are these platforms scoring on diversity and pluralism?

Maria Luisa Stasi & Pierre François Docquir, ACTICLE19


What the "digital welfare state" really means for human rights

The digitalization of welfare is presented as an altruistic and noble enterprise designed to ensure that citizens benefit from new technologies. In reality, it often leads to reduced budgets, restricted eligibility, and fewer services.

Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 


Putting human rights law at the core of debates on online political campaigning

To date, it’s been left to the tech companies to set limits on online political campaigning. Governments need to step in and to use human rights law as a framework for regulation.

Kate Jones, Univesity of Oxford's Faculty of Law 


WhatsApp sues NSO Group: is this what it takes to hold surveillance tech to account?

A lawsuit exposing the use of surveillance software to target human rights defenders shows the urgent need for better regulation.

Ana Zbona & Phil Bloomer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre 


Protecting children's digital bodies through rights

Children are becoming the objects of a multitude of monitoring devices—what are the possible negative ramifications in low resource contexts and fragile settings?

Kristin Sandvik, PRIO 


Technology and gaming innovations bring new life to Russian NGOs

Russia’s non-profit sector has been playing a constant game of catch-up—can new media technologies break this pattern and appeal to younger audiences?

Tatiana Tolsteneva, Master's Degree candidate at London School of EconomicS 


Why do emerging AI guidelines emphasize "ethics" over human rights?

It's clear that regulations of AI must start now, but why do emerging frameworks primarily talk about ethics rather than law and human rights?

Alison Berthet, Human & Digital Rights Strategy Manager at BT


Bringing women's voices into the "Smart City Just City" dialogue

Can urban planners use the technology in “Smart Cities” to create cities that are more just—and safe—for all?

Natilie Fill, IHC Global 


Competition rules could protect human rights on social media platforms

Social media platforms are abusing their dominant position and exploiting users with terms of service that fail to protect thier human rights. Competition rules could help fix the problem.

Maria Luisa Stasi, ARTICLE 19 


Sex robots: a human rights discourse?

What are the human rights implications in the growing market for sex robots? Are these AI “gynoids” just harmless sex toys, or do they further marginalize women and put sex workers at risk of harm?

Carlotta Rigotti, Vrije University Brussels


How civil society can work to improve our technological future

Given the rapid pace of change in the development and uptake of digital and emerging technologies, civil society will need to evolve, and the World Economic Forum aims to provide a platform for stakeholders to explore this new reality.

Lincoln Ajoku, World Economic Forum


Failure to act: getting ahead of technological threats to democracy

Adversaries of democracy are deliberately targeting free speech, and democratic nations must get ahead of the technology curve in order to be proactive about these emerging threats.

Laura Rosenberger, Alliance for Securing Democracy & German Marshall Fund (GMF)


Blockchain technologies offer transparency that could improve human rights practices

Blockchain solutions could help companies comply with human rights due diligence in more effective and efficient ways.

Dean Pinkert, James Ton-that & Ravi Soopramanien, Hughes Hubbard’s International Trade practice 


Beyond Internet access: seeking knowledge justice online

Most debates around the internet and human rights focus on narrowing the digital divide and facilitating freedom of expression. But a human rights-based approach to the internet must look beyond issues of access toward questions of online knowledge equality and equity. 

Kira Allmann, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Oxford & Anasuya Sengupta, co-founder of Whose Knowledge? 


Restricting cybersecurity, violating human rights: cybercrime laws in MENA region

Oppressive laws purporting to prevent cybercrime in the MENA region are robbing internet users of their basic human rights. 

Wafa Ben-Hassine & Dima Samaro, Access Now


 A tech solution to documenting sexual violence

A simple app, developed in close co-operation with clinicians, police and other end-users, is making it easier to effectively document and prosecute sexual assault cases in Kenya and the DRC. 

Suzanne Kidenda & Katy Johnson, Physicians for Human Rights 


Why policymakers need to tackle the digital gender gap 

Tackling the digital gender gap means more than improving internet access—it means empowering women and girls to use online technology, preventing gender-based violence, and addressing discrimination in emerging technologies.

Ana Brandusescu, Formerly with Web Foundation


How can AI amplify civic freedoms? 

Civil society must improve its knowledge and use of artificial intelligence in order to limit exploitation and protect and promote civic freedoms.

Zach Lampell & Lily Liu, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)


Identities in Crosshairs - Censoring LGBTQ internet content around the world 

A Canadian company is enabling its software to be used globally to censor access to information on LGBTQ issues, in breach of international standards.

Miles Kenyon, Adam Senft & Ronald Deibert, Citizen Lab 


Tech companies' inability to control fake news exacerbates violent acts 

In the absence of sufficient monitoring and ameliorative action on the part of the tech companies, fake news in Sri Lanka is provoking non-violent, law-abiding people into hate-filled and violent acts.

Jennifer Easterday & Hana Ivanhoe, JustPeace Labs


Communications infrastructure in Palestine has become a tool of repression

Restrictions on Palestinian mobile companies mean that Israeli companies reap profits from Palestinian customers, while Israel benefits from the resulting surveillance capacity and propaganda tools.

Who Profits Research Center


Geospatial technology—done right—can improve human rights documentation

With private corporations now the largest providers of satellite technology, human rights practitioners need to recognize the power—and the limits—of geospatial technologies in court cases.

Theresa Harris, Project Director in the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)


photo of face of blue robot

Mitigating unfair bias in artificial intelligence

Instead of choosing between humans-only systems and AI systems, leveraging the best of human values and ability as well as artificial intelligence promise greater progress in fairness, transparency, and accountability.

Bernard Shen, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft Corporation


The corporations' dilemma: navigating government access to information

Technology can help to prevent conflict, but it can also facilitate human rights abuses, and companies that collect user data are in the middle of the debate.

Isabel Laura Ebert, Research Associate at Institute for Business Ethics, University of St. Gallen


New human rights principles on artificial intelligence

A new set of principles—the Toronto Declaration—aims to put human rights front and centre in the development and application of machine learning technologies.

Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International


Risks and responsibilities of content moderation in online platforms

The issue of content moderation in online platforms has been missing in debates on business and human rights, but these platforms are critical in exercising our freedom of expression. 

Richard Wingfield, Legal Officer at Global Partners Digital 


What digital searches reveal about our engagement with rights

Trends in Google searches show that most internet users are interested in the human rights during crises or policy changes, often due to media prompting. How do we become more than passive recipients of human rights?

Rayyan Dabbous, Founder of the Boumerang Foundation


Bringing justice close: an experiment in accessing justice with technology

Legal empowerment enables poor and marginalised communities to be partners in development and decision-making, and new technologies make it possible for women in India to speak out against systemic problems.

Shreya Sen, Senior Justice Programme Officer at Nazdeek


Without binding rules, AI guidelines are just wishful thinking

Many governments have released official strategies to promote AI systems leaving the public with few human rights protections.

Emre Eren Korkmaz, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford


gender lens is critical to resolving tech-enabled abuse

We need to act upon the insights that we glean from AI: technology is not a replacement for the political will needed to drive change.

Michelle Lau-Burke, Manager of Business and Human Rights at The B Team, and Callie Strickland, Gender Specialist at The B Team


AI insights into human rights are meaningless without action

Technology can raise awareness and spark collective action, but it can also deepen gender divides and provide platforms for harassment. How can ICT companies better protect their users?

Samir Goswami, Consultant on Business and Fair Labour Issues and Teacher of CSR in the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University


Apps and traps: why dating apps must do more to protect LGBTQ communities

Repressive states are manipulating dating apps to find and target LGBTQ individuals, and app companies must take responsibility for reducing the risks to their users.

Afsaneh Rigot, Programme Officer, Article 19 


FIFA 2018: digital rights are (finally) playable

Mega events like the Olympics and the World Cup are bringing digital rights concerns under increased scrutiny.

Peter Micek, General Counsel, Access Now


Addressing the potential human rights risks of the "Fourth Industrial Revolution"

Technology has the power to free us from drudgery or to decimate livelihoods, and the choices that governments and companies make will often determine the difference.

Phil Bloomer, Executive Director at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, and Christen Dobson, Senior Project Lead and Researcher at Business & Human Rights Resource Centre


As artificial intelligence progresses, what does real responsibility look like?

Artificial intelligence is disrupting how we live, work, do business, and govern—but what mechanisms can guide responsible behavior without stifling innovation?

Dunstan Allison-Hope, Managing Director, Business for Social Responsibility, and Mark Hodge, independent advisor and research fellow at the Institute for Human Rights and Business 



The "new green"? Business and the responsible use of algorithms

Algorithms have long aided decision-making, but as artificial intelligence gains greater autonomy, businesses need guidelines and regulations to ensure that this new technology does not violate human rights.

Matthew Fenech, Research and Advocacy Consultant on artificial intelligence (AI)


Artificial intelligence can be a boon for businesses, but can it protect workers?

Artificial intelligence is rapidly transforming business models, but labor rights and other human rights issues are often lost amidst these quick changes. Can we teach machines to incorporate human rights concerns?

Emre Eren Korkmaz is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Oxford’s Department of International Development

We welcome submissions (including responses to any of the blogs on this page) from all stakeholders. To submit a blog to this series please contact:

Christen Dobson, Senior Project Lead & Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

dobson [at] business-humanrights.org

Archana Pandya, Co-Director, OpenGlobalRights

apandya [at] openglobalrights.org