United Against Digital Dystopia

Here at CHRGJ, we strongly believe in the power of international organization to promote the protection of human rights and the importance of regional and global human rights accountability mechanisms to hold powerful states and other actors to account. Through our United Against Digital Dystopia advocacy, 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.

The work on the digital state and human rights at CHRGJ had its origins in work undertaken on the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, a global (UN) human rights accountability mechanism. Philip Alston and Christiaan van Veen first addressed the phenomena of the emerging ‘digital welfare state’ in UN country visits to the United States and the United Kingdom in 2017 and 2018. Subsequently, in a 2019 report to the United Nations General Assembly, they warned that there was a need “to alter course significantly and rapidly to avoid stumbling, zombie-like, into a digital welfare dystopia.”

The publication of this highly influential report to the United Nations General Assembly on the digital welfare state and human rights evidently had an important impact on the human rights field and beyond and helped create a new field of human rights research and attention.  For this report a total of 60 written submissions were received from 22 governments, as well as civil society organizations, academics and individuals in 34 countries. And consultations with human rights organizations, leading scholars and other stakeholders provided important additional input. These have been made available beloiw.

The team hosted a global consultation of various digital rights groups, leading scholars and other stakeholders, first in a meeting hosted by the Digital Freedom Fund in Berlin in February 2019, and then at a meeting sponsored by the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University, in April 2019. NGOs, activists, academics and other individuals and organizations working on issues related to digital technologies, welfare and human rights, also provided input – these inputs have been made available below.

Other work by the CHRGJ team involving the UN, includes involvement in litigation on the SyRI digital welfare fraud detection system in the Netherlands, a 40-page communication to the Irish government about the discriminatory and exclusionary impact of its de facto digital ID system (the Public Services Card), an event on Techno-Racism to promote a report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Racism, virtual consultations with international organizations in the UN system on digital welfare systems in Africa and digital ID workshops organized with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

Photo above by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.


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