Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project

The Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project aims to investigate systems of social protection and assistance in countries around the world that are increasingly driven by digital data and technologies. Such data and technologies are commonly used to automate, predict, identify, surveil, detect, target and punish. Examples are: the rapid spread of biometric identification systems; the automation of systems to establish eligibility for welfare benefits, as well as the calculation and payment of benefits; digital systems built to detect and prevent welfare fraud; algorithms and other tools to score individuals on the basis of risks or needs; and the increase of online platforms to interact with and keep track of welfare beneficiaries.

The digital welfare state represents a revolution in the administration of benefits and social assistance systems in countries across the globe. Despite the many ramifications of this development, the phenomenon remains underexplored. The Project will look specifically into the relationship between the roll-out of digital welfare states and the protection of human rights norms.

The Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project will contribute to this emerging field by undertaking research, stimulating debate and forging networks.

Research

To further the theoretical and practical understanding of the phenomenon of the Digital Welfare State, the Project will undertake original research about the myriad implications of the emergence of these systems of governance for the protection of individuals’ human rights. This will include country-level research to engage with civil society organizations, academic experts, affected groups and individuals, government authorities and private actors to form a better understanding of national systems. The research will focus not only on the implications of these digital welfare systems on civil and political rights such as the right to privacy and non-discrimination, but will also investigate the impact on social and economic rights.

Debate

The far-reaching implications of the availability of abundant digital information and new technologies that enable the rapid processing and analysis of this digital data for the functioning of welfare states are not well understood and often only discussed among sectoral experts. Yet, the consequences of these developments for the well-being of individuals, especially poorer and marginalized groups in society, are substantial. The Project will aim to stimulate debate on digital welfare states and human rights by publishing reports, organizing public events as well as through interaction with human rights- and other civil society organizations as well as international, regional and domestic human rights mechanisms.

Networks

The impact of digital welfare states on human rights is relevant for the work of human rights, welfare rights, digital rights, poverty rights and a range of other civil society organizations. Yet, at present, different organizations in different countries work on separate dimensions of the problems posed by digital welfare states with limited cross-country cooperation and without much awareness of the work of other actors in this field. The Project aims to facilitate interaction among activists, experts, officials, and researchers who are keen to develop a better understanding of the challenges and to respond to the human rights implications of digital welfare states. It does this through events, workshops and other means.

People
Christiaan van Veen
Director, Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project
Johann Laux
Program Affiliate, Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project
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