Technology and Human Rights

On Friday it’s time for me to give a lecture on Technology and Human Rights for the local masters course on human rights. The nice part about this lecture is that it gives me the opportunity to collect and explore different strands of my work and present them to a new audience. My interest in this area began some time ago and resulted in 2005 in the collected edition Human Rights in the Digital Age which I edited together with Andrew Murray.

Discussing technology and rights can at times feel a bit banal. Human rights activists struggle to free people from torture and death so isn’t technology a small waste of time? There is no way in which it would be fair to compare technology and rights to the work of activists against the death penalty. But there is a major problem if all issues must be resolved in the order of magnitude. Speech rights may be less important to someone facing the death penalty but this does not mean that we should ignore speech rights until we have managed to abolish the death penalty.

For the lecture on Friday I am planning to look at three different areas.

The first area is going to be the use of the Internet as a “place” for political participation. I want to discuss the Internet as an area of political discourse and in particular show its possibilities and its fundamental flaws and limitations. This area should include freedom of speech and freedom of association.

The second area is privacy. In particular I want to focus on the merging of online and offline data. Or to put it another way the combination of spatial information (where you are) with the information traces stored in databases (who you are) to show the advanced control mechanism being created.

The final area is the aggregate use of technology. In this section I want to show the audience that with each piece of technology we may implement for our comfort we also form and shape our lives. In particular we also shape the way in which our lives may be controlled by others. This incremental implementation of technology does not bring large protests since no large rights are threatened overall. However the net long term result is darker than anything Orwell would have dreamed about.

Eric Drooker

The overall goal is to make the audience a bit paranoid about technology – to make them question the choices we are all making in our rush towards a more convenient way of life. Not bad for a Friday…

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