Digital Rights are Human Rights

The Digital Freedom Fund counted down to Human Rights Day 2020 with a series of short posts. Each post was written by a guest author and illustrates how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies in the digital age. The full series can be viewed here.

The right to seek and enjoy asylum

UDHR Article 14

According to Article 14 of the UDHR, everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum. The declaration is regarded as a milestone in international human rights law.

Since then, the right to asylum has been incorporated in countless international treaties and constitutions. Despite this, the right to asylum and the human rights of migrants and refugees have continuously been the centre of violent political attacks.

To shirk their legal responsibilities, countries have built walls, barbed wire fences, armies and border control agencies.

Refugees who make it beyond those obstacles oftentimes find themselves placed in centres and isolated campsites with no access to doctors or legal representation; their children often going without adequate education.

On top of this, governments and state agencies have begun to seriously invade the privacy rights of refugees. They have started to buy, implement, and test invasive technologies on this particularly vulnerable group.

In Europe, the European Union has built up excessive police and migration data bases, which it aims to broaden and interlink. For years, the European Asylum Support Office illegally monitored social media data from refugees to detect and obstruct flight routes – until it was stopped by the EU data protection supervisor. Nonetheless, Frontex, the infamous European Border and Coast Guard Agency, has already publicly announced its interest in continuing such monitoring.

All over the world, governments are analysing smart phone data of migrants and refugees: to confirm flight routes and to verify identity and nationality, but possibly for a variety of other reasons as well. In Germany, GFF is challenging the phone data analysis in court.

Human rights are inseparable and interlinked. The right to asylum is worthless if other human rights of asylum seekers are not respected, and refugees should not have to accept infringements of their privacy rights any more than anyone else.

By Lea Beckmann, human rights lawyer at Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF).