Together, as we seek to recover from the pandemic, we must learn to better curtail harmful use of digital technology and to better unleash its power as a democratizing force and an enabler.
Secretary-General of the United Nations
Digital technologies provide new means to advocate for, defend, and exercise human rights. They shape in many ways how people access and share information, form their opinions, debate, and mobilise – they have deeply transformed the “public square”. But they are equally used to suppress, limit and violate rights, for instance through surveillance, censorship, and online harassment. This is especially true for those who are already vulnerable or have been left behind, or those who are seeking to defend and promote human and civil rights. The digitalisation of our societies has, in many instances, eroded social protections, deepened inequalities, and exacerbated existing discrimination, in particular through technologies such as facial recognition, robotics, digital identification and biotechnology.
AI-enabled tools in particular can cause profound harm in the absence of fairness, accountability, explainability and transparency. Meanwhile, many of the human rights tools established in a pre-digital era are not automatically compatible with the digital sphere and have to be adapted and updated in order to meet the many protection gaps created by constantly evolving digital technologies. The aim is a world in which everyone benefits from these profound advances and new frontiers. To that end, we will advocate for the application of the human rights framework to the digital space.
In 2020, the Secretary-General launched two landmark initiatives that respond directly to the evolving digital era – A Call to Action for Human Rights, and a Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Each feature digital human rights as crucial to a fair, safe and dignified future for humanity. This online resource hub is a direct response to both initiatives. Compiling the reports, analysis, and recommendations from the United Nations human rights mechanisms that seek to address human rights issues in the digital age, the hub provides an ever-expanding library of relevant and reliable guidance to the global UN family, Governments, the private sector, civil society and the public.
In conjunction with the hub, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is developing system-wide guidance for human rights due diligence in the United Nations’ use of new technologies to ensure compliance with human rights principles and standards. Further guidance on how human rights standards apply in the digital age is also being developed, including through the Human Rights Council, the special procedures and treaty bodies, OHCHR and other stakeholders. Watch this space for developments.