The Implications for Human Rights in the Digital Age
As society relies more and more on digital technologies, there are growing implications for human rights and individuals' fundamental freedoms—both positive and negative.
03 Sep 2021
Interventions to foster and strengthen safeguards for human rights in the digital age take place in a rapidly evolving technology, political and socio-cultural landscape. Several overarching principles could inform and guide organisations' capacity-building efforts.
Digital technologies and services create both opportunities and challenges for the fostering, safeguarding and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Digital technologies can be used for malicious purposes and be vulnerable to exploitation through a variety of malicious activities, including mis- and disinformation, mass surveillance and controls to restrict civic space and public discourse.
The UK National Cyber Security Strategy recognises the need to ‘rigorously protect and promote’ the UK’s core values in cyberspace, including democracy, the rule of law, privacy and human rights.
Through a literature review, key interviews, and a structured workshop, researchers identified and evaluated various approaches for building capacity (i.e. for empowering individuals, communities, or organisations with the skills, knowledge, tools, equipment, and other resources) needed to foster, safeguard, and exercise human rights and fundamental freedoms in the digital age.
The study, commissioned by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), provides an overview of human rights in the digital age, of the trends and challenges associated with them, and discusses capacity-building approaches that the FCDO could prioritise for funding on the basis of potential impacts, benefits, drawbacks, barriers, and enablers.
This research will help inform decision-making on future efforts to build capacity around human rights fostering and safeguarding.
Capacity-building interventions take place in a rapidly evolving technology, political and socio-cultural landscape characterised by:
Recognising this context and its opportunities, threats and challenges, organisations active in capacity building can employ a range of approaches to help foster and safeguard human rights in the digital age. These can be broadly grouped into four categories – governance and regulation, technical interventions, education, and strategic communications – that provide different opportunities and options to achieve impact, and which are characterised by different strengths, weaknesses, and implementation requirements.
We identified several overarching principles that could inform and guide capacity-building efforts by organisations that aim to foster and strengthen safeguards for human rights in the digital age:
Adopt a holistic approach to human rights and fundamental freedoms, moving away from a distinction between capacity-building initiatives with a digital focus and those aimed at more traditional concepts of human rights.
Ensure that policy initiatives support and resonate with international engagement work to foster and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Develop a strategic approach and overarching framework to guide initiatives focusing on human rights and fundamental freedoms. These should identify:
Build on established principles and good practices for the delivery of individual interventions to maximise their impact, sustainability, effectiveness, and efficiency. Donor, funder and implementer organisations could: