CHRGJ Launches New Project on the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights

The Center for Human Rights and Global Justice recently launched a new project on the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights. This project, directed by Christiaan van Veen, aims to investigate systems of social protection and assistance in countries around the world that are increasingly governed using digital technologies and abundant digital information. While often presented as technocratic fixes, the digital welfare state represents a revolution in the administration of government benefits and social assistance systems. That revolution extends to other parts of the welfare state such as health care and education and is changing government as we know it, with significant and largely ignored implications for the human rights of individuals, especially those who are poor and marginalized.

The Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project will contribute to this emerging field by undertaking research, stimulating debate and forging networks between civil society organizations, academics, activists and affected individuals with different backgrounds and focus areas and from different countries. Recently, the project has also cooperated closely with the United Nations Special Rapporteur and CHRGJ Faculty Director, Professor Philip Alston, on these issues. In ongoing litigation in the Netherlands against a digital benefit fraud detection system called ‘SyRI’, we submitted an amicus brief. In October, the Special Rapporteur also presented a global thematic report on digital welfare states and human rights to the United Nations General Assembly. In preparation for that report, we organized several consultations and received written submissions from 34 countries around the world.

In the week of the presentation of this report, the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights project organized an event on Human Rights in the Digital Age in New York together with Amnesty International, and with The Guardian newspaper as media partner. A video of the event can be found here or watched below.

The event featured a keynote speech by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who warned that the digital revolution, at its worst, will “disempower, disconnect, misinform and cost lives” and who underlined that human rights can make a difference in preventing that from happening.

This keynote was followed by a panel discussion with Philip Alston, Michelle Bachelet, Chris Hughes (Co-founder of Facebook, Co-Chair of the Economic Security Project and Senior Adviser at the Roosevelt Institute), Kumi Naidoo (Secretary-General of Amnesty International) and Shoshana Zuboff (Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power) and moderated by Ed Pilkington (Chief Reporter of The Guardian US). Panelists spoke about the general neglect of human rights in the debate on the major changes brought about by digital technologies to our societies, the main dangers of the digital age for human rights, the challenges of confronting the power of Big Tech, the differences between ethical and human rights frameworks, and the ability of the human rights framework and movement to adapt to the challenges of the digital age.



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