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 assembly and association

UDHR Article 20

When we are watched, we are controlled. Nowhere is this more clear than in the application of mass surveillance tools such as facial recognition, gait analysis, and other developing technologies.

If these tools are widely adopted, it becomes more likely that the police will use them to gather information on us when we go to protests and demonstrations, and potentially penalise us for taking part in activities that challenge the actions of the state.

Research has found that people are more likely to avoid places where police are using facial recognition cameras. Here in the UK, Liberty’s client, who recently won the world’s first case against police use of facial recognition, was scanned at a protest against the arms trade. Protesting is a vital means to express ourselves. Facial recognition in public spaces poses a significant threat to us doing that.

Despite unprecedented restrictions due to the pandemic, this year has seen a rising wave of protests around the world, in large part driven by Black Lives Matter and the movement against societal racism. In many countries this right to protest is under threat, and enhanced surveillance such as facial recognition creates an alarming new element to this.

Our privacy protects us and ensures we can voice dissent as well as speak out against threats to our other rights. We should all be able to attend a protest or political meeting without being tracked by the police, without being caught in a web of surveillance, and without the fear our actions are will be reported to our families, employers or state agencies. Privacy matters because it allows us to speak freely and stand up to power.

By Gracie Bradley, Interim Director at Liberty.