As digital technologies continue to dramatically transform the world we live in, awareness and alarm has been growing as to the ability of new technologies to cause harm and undermine our human rights. Technology-driven automation may lead to displacement of human workers, governments may use an immense data stream to spy on us and control our behavior, and social media can be a marketplace for hate. How do we ensure that technology and data are used to fulfill our rights, like our human rights to health, to education, and to social security, rather than to violate those rights? As governments incorporate digital technologies, how do we ensure that no one is excluded? These are some of the key questions that guide the Center’s work on digital technologies and human rights.

The Digital Welfare State

Emerging from groundbreaking work undertaken on the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, CHRGJ launched the “Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project” in 2019 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. The project has sought to further theoretical and practical understandings of these phenomena, from the perspective of international human rights law, to trigger a global debate on the human rights implications of the rise of digital welfare states, and to form a coalition and network of relevant organizations and individuals interested in addressing the positive and negative human rights implications of digital welfare states. This focus on research, action and education and community-building remains the essence of our work on new technologies and human rights.

But the human rights implications of governments’ wholesale embrace of digital technologies spread far beyond the “digital welfare state.” Around the world, governments are busily implementing “digital transformation” strategies, using a buzzword much preferred by governments and those advising them, and effecting radical transformations within the interactions between governments and individuals. These “digital transformation” initiatives affect all parts of the state, not merely the delivery of welfare and social protection services. From the introduction of digital ID systems in India or Kenya that act as “gateways” to accessing social and other human rights, to “digital-by-default” welfare benefits in the United Kingdom, digital government is rapidly becoming omnipresent.

Our Initiatives

We are exploring these broader implications of digital transformation in the state on human rights in several strands of our work. This includes our work on the Everyone Counts! initiative, through which we undertake in-depth research on digital ID, social exclusion, and human rights violations, targeted advocacy and network building. The wider implications of the Digital Leviathan for human rights are also investigated through Transformer States: A Series on Digital Government and Human Rights. This is a series of virtual in-depth interviews with practitioners and academics working at the cutting edge of research and advocacy on digital government, as well as accompanying blog posts about digital government and human rights. This series of interviews and blogs aims to explore digital transformation and its impact on the lives and rights of individuals.  We aim to bring our research and that of our partners and peers to the attention of international organizations, especially global and regional human rights accountability mechanisms, and to national governments and regulatory bodies, through our Advancing Accountability advocacy. Finally, in 2023, we launched a new initiative, The Hidden Environmental Costs of Government Digital Transformation, in which we are exploring the significant environmental costs that are being obscured and ignored as governments embrace digital transformation.

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Key Projects and Initiatives
'Transformer States': our Webinar Series & Information Hub on Digital Government
Everyone Counts Initiative: our work on Digital ID & Exclusion
Advancing Accountability
The Hidden Environmental Costs of Government Digital Transformation
Victoria Adelmant
Director of the Digital Welfare State & Human Rights Project and Adjunct Professor
Katelyn Cioffi
Senior Research Scholar, Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project
November 28, 2023
Transformer State series: Poor enough for the algorithm? Exploring Jordan’s “poverty targeting” system
View Event
November 15, 2023
Disputing Decisions in Digital-By-Design Systems | The right to appeal in the UK’s digital ‘Universal Credit’ program
View Event
June 6, 2023
Digital Government Is Not “Presence-less”: The Global Environmental Realities of Government Digital Transformation
View Event
Regulating AI in Brazil
Contesting the Foundations of Digital Public Infrastructure: What Digital ID Litigation Can Tell Us About the Future of Digital Government and Society
Op-ed: Human rights gateway or gatekeeper: Digital IDs on trial in Uganda
“Shaping Digital Identity Standards: An explainer and recommendations on technical standard-setting for digital identity systems”
Op-ed: Hollow rights victories? Dutch struggles against digital injustice
Legal opinion submitted to the Serbian Constitutional Court about digital government harms
The Aadhaar Mirage: A Second Look at the World Bank’s “Model” for Digital ID Systems
Sorting in Place of Solutions for Homeless Populations: How Federal Directives Prioritize Data Over Services
Risk Scoring Children in Chile
“Killing two birds with one stone?” The Cashless COVID Welfare Payments Aimed at Boosting Consumption
Singapore’s “smart city” initiative: one step further in the surveillance, regulation and disciplining of those at the margins
Experimental automation in the UK immigration system
Chosen by a Secret Algorithm: Colombia’s top-down pandemic payments
Pilots, Pushbacks, and the Panopticon: Digital Technologies at the EU’s Borders
Social rights disrupted: how should human rights organizations adapt to digital government?
A GPS Tracker on Every “Boda Boda”: A Tale of Mass Surveillance in Uganda
“Leapfrogging” to Digital Financial Inclusion through “Moonshot” Initiatives
The Fatal Flaw in Uganda’s Emergency Relief: The government is using national ID data to find those in need of COVID relief. Yet millions of the most marginalised aren’t even on the system.
False Promises and Multiple Exclusion: Summary of Our RightsCon Event on Uganda’s National Digital ID System
Chased Away and Left to Die: New Report by CHRGJ and Ugandan partners documents mass exclusion from Uganda’s digital ID system and blames national security “obsession”
I don't see you, but you see me: asymmetric visibility in Brazil's Bolsa Família Program
Social Credit in China: Looking Beyond the “Black Mirror” Nightmare
Everyone Counts! Ensuring that the human rights of all are respected in digital ID systems
Marketizing the digital state: the failure of the ‘Verify’ model in the United Kingdom
Fearing the future without romanticizing the past: the role for international human rights law(yers) in the digital welfare state to be
Locked In! How the South African Welfare State Came to Rely on a Digital Monopolist
Putting Profit Before Welfare: A Closer Look at India’s Digital Identification System
On the Frontlines of the Digital Welfare State: Musings from Australia
Paving a Digital Road to Hell? A Primer on the Role of World Bank and Global Networks in Promoting Digital ID
Director of the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project, Christiaan van Veen, Bids Farewell
Press Release: The World Bank and co. may be paving a ‘Digital Road to Hell’ with support for dangerous digital ID
Press Release: ‘Chased Away and Left to Die’: New human rights report finds that Uganda’s national digital ID system leads to mass exclusion
Press release: U.S. government must adopt moratorium on mandatory use of biometric technologies in critical sectors, look to evidence abroad, urge human rights experts

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