The digital rights future we want: imagining a Universal Declaration of Digital Rights

By Nani Jansen Reventlow, 15th November 2018

In a perfect world, what would you like to be able to say is true about our digital rights five, ten years from now?

With this question, we kicked off the “Future-proofing our digital rights” workshop in Berlin late September. Representatives from Liberties, Privacy International, SHARE Foundation, Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Oxford Information Labs, Liberty, Public Interest Litigation Project, Prototype Fund, Panoptykon Foundation, Bits of Freedom, Global Partners Digital, La Quadrature du Net, and Digital Security Lab Ukraine tried to imagine what a positive future conversation about our digital rights would look like and penned down a multitude of statements, ranging from “people have more time to the creative things they care about”  and “the Internet of Things has helped to limit climate change” to “the information shared on the internet can only be deleted in line with international human rights standards”, “children are safe in the digital context” and “no ‘black boxes’ are allowed to determine people’s rights”.

Temporarily switching our focus from the digital rights battles being fought today to the future we want turned out to be an invigorating and inspiring experience, which energy fed into our own imagining of a “Universal Declaration of Digital Rights”. Starting from how rights are currently protected in our international human rights system, we looked at how these would be interpreted in the future and asked ourselves would need to be established over the coming years.

The Declaration that resulted from our collective imagination was a combination of both a re-imagined existing rights, such as fair trial rights, focused on algorithmic decision-making, or a right to “understand the implications of technology” as a manifestation of the right to education, and the formulation of new potential rights, such as a right to modify and update devices, a right to interoperability of technologies, and the right to disconnect.

DING magazine made this wonderful visualisation:

One reflection that was shared by a number of participants was how time-resistant our current human rights framework is; a frequent point of consideration was if the newly imagined rights were truly new or if they would fall within scope of the existing framework.

Of course, there are other declarations and statements of our human rights in the digital age, such as the Article 19’s proposal for a Universal Declaration of Digital Rights, the Internet Rights and Principles Coalition’s Charter of Human Rights and Principles for the Internet, or ZEIT-Stiftung’s European Digital Charter. It was interesting to see many parallels between these projects and our collective creative imagination sprint.

What do you think? Do we need a re-imagining of our human rights framework to make it fit for the digital age? Or does our current framework suffice? Get in touch to let us know!