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
Adjunct Professor of Law
Katelyn Cioffi
Research Scholar, Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project
Nanjala Nyabola
Senior Affiliate
Ngozi Nwanta
Affiliate
Victoria Adelmant
Research Scholar

Transformer States: A Conversation Series on Digital Government and Human Rights

In fall 2020, the Digital Welfare State and Human Rights Project launched a series of virtual conversations entitled “Transformer States: A Conversation Series on Digital Government and Human Rights.” Through in-depth interviews with practitioners and academics working on digital government, this series aims to further explore digital transformation and its impact on the lives and rights of individuals.

Each month, Project Director Christiaan van Veen and Research Scholar Victoria Adelmant will interview one practitioner or academic to discuss a specific case study of digital government.  At least 3 virtual conversations will be held in the fall semester in 2020, and at least 3 more sessions will be organized for the spring of 2021. These discussions will take place via Zoom webinar, and participants will have the opportunity to direct questions to the speaker both before and during the interview. The conversations will also be recorded, and captioned recording will be posted on this webpage along with blog posts summarizing key points of the interview together with relevant background materials. Read more about the series here.

News
Press Coverage
August 2, 2021
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.
African Arguments
View Post
Blog
June 8, 2021
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”
View Post
Press Releases
June 8, 2021
Press Release: ‘Chased Away and Left to Die’: New human rights report finds that Uganda’s national digital ID system leads to mass exclusion
View Post
Documents
Reports and Briefing Papers
June 8, 2021
Chased Away and Left to Die: How a National Security Approach to Uganda’s National Digital ID Has Led to Wholesale Exclusion of Women and Older Persons
View Document
Commentary
March 31, 2021
Transcript for event, “Social Credit in China”
View Document
Commentary
January 8, 2020
What the “Digital Welfare State” Really Means for Human Rights
View Document
Events
November 24, 2021
Chosen by the Secret Algorithm: A Closer Look at Colombia’s Pandemic Payments
View Event
October 27, 2021
Artificial Borders? The Digital and Extraterritorial Protection of “Fortress Europe”
View Event
September 29, 2021
Left Behind: Defending Socioeconomic Rights in Uganda’s Move Towards Digital Government
View Event
RSVP
Degree

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