This event brings together international policymakers, human rights practitioners, leading academics and representatives from technology companies to discuss the relevance of the international human rights law framework in a world increasingly dominated by digital technologies.

In only a few decades, we have witnessed tremendous change through digital innovation, from personal computers, a globe-spanning Internet, and ubiquitous smartphones, to rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence. As we express ever more of ourselves digitally, the economy is built around the data generated, which is then used to predict and nudge our future behavior. Surveillance capitalism (Zuboff, 2019) is being matched by the digitization of government, whether in national security, policing, immigration or court systems.. And postwar welfare states are rapidly becoming digital welfare states (Alston & Van Veen, 2019).

The speed, magnitude and complexity of these developments have left little or no time for reflection let alone resistance on the part of most of those affected.  Only now is the world waking up to the value-choices implicit in embracing many of these technological changes. And many of the initiatives designed to curb the excesses of the digital age are entirely voluntary, based in malleable conceptions of ethics, and themselves reliant upon technological solutions promoted by the very Big Tech firms these initiatives are supposed to regulate.

This event will focus on the role of law, democratic institutions and human rights in the digital age. Can the societal impacts of digital technologies be meaningfully addressed in the language of rights? What difference does it make to insist on applying the lens of human rights law? What difference can international and domestic human rights accountability mechanisms make in the technology debate? Whose voices and issues are neglected in this debate and how can human rights law empower those on the margins of society?

This event is co-hosted by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law and Amnesty International with the Guardian as a media partner.

Agenda and Speakers

12:15-12:30 p.m.        Welcome and lunch buffet

12:30-12:45 p.m.       Keynote speech by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

12:45-1:45 p.m.          Panel discussion featuring:

  • Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, New York University School of Law
  • Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Chris Hughes, Co-founder of Facebook and Co-Chair of the Economic Security Project and Senior Advisor, Roosevelt Institute
  • Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General, Amnesty International
  • Shoshana Zuboff, Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita, Harvard Business School and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019)
  • Moderated by Ed Pilkington, Chief Reporter, Guardian US

1:45-2:30 p.m.           Q & A with audience


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