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.


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.


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.


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.

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
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.

July 14, 2022
The Aadhaar Mirage: A Second Look at the World Bank’s “Model” for Digital ID Systems
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Press Releases
June 17, 2022
Press Release: The World Bank and co. may be paving a ‘Digital Road to Hell’ with support for dangerous digital ID
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May 17, 2022
Sorting in Place of Solutions for Homeless Populations: How Federal Directives Prioritize Data Over Services
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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
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March 31, 2021
Transcript for event, “Social Credit in China”
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January 8, 2020
What the “Digital Welfare State” Really Means for Human Rights
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June 9, 2022
How Runaway Algorithms Brought Down the Dutch Government
View Event
March 30, 2022
Risk Scoring and Children’s Rights in Chile
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February 23, 2022
Surveillance of the Poor in Singapore: Poverty in the Smart City
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