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 equal enjoyment of human rights

UDHR Articles 1-2

Articles 1 and 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tell us that all human beings are equal. Unfortunately, we know that in our world, we are still a long way from realising these rights.

Across the world, discrimination in many forms persists – and new technologies and dynamics in the digital sphere further complicate this issue.

The increased power of global technology companies and social media platforms has had a direct impact on whether we really do have an equal ability to express ourselves and make political statements online, as the recent Zoom censorship case shows.

Further, the increasing and disproportionate experience of abuse and harassment online of many marginalised groups, fuelled by business models which amplify toxic content, are a direct barrier to the equal enjoyment of rights to free expression and assembly.

With the increased resort to automated decision-making in many different areas of public life,  discrimination will be heightened, and perhaps new forms created. The flip side to the “innovation” and enhanced “efficiency” of automated technologies is how they, in effect, differentiate, target and experiment on communities at the margins. In the world of work, the roll-out of a range of automated decision-making systems has been shown to enhance and optimise surveillance of people working in already precarious contexts.

In other cases, data-driven tools exacerbate monitoring and profiling of already over-policed communities, including people of colour, migrants, and sex workers.

The testing of new tools, from facial recognition lie detectors to iris scanning and beyond, of people at the borders highlights how we do not all experience these new technologies in empowering ways. Our enjoyment of rights to privacy, freedom of movement, the prohibition on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary arrest, is always highly differential and unequal, especially with the increased use of digital tools.

These are just some of the ways the digital context brings challenges for the full realisation of our right to equality and equal enjoyment of human rights. They show us that we need to think about digital rights as human rights, and vice-versa.

By Sarah Chander, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi).