Human rights principles

AI and human rights principles

AI significantly impacts the field of human rights principles. Although AI can potentially improve the defence of human rights, it poses several difficulties and dangers that must be considered as well.

AI in support of human rights 

AI can improve access to information and promote transparency, enabling individuals to exercise their rights more effectively. For example, AI-powered platforms can help disseminate information on human rights violations, connect activists, and provide resources to vulnerable populations. AI technologies can also be used to develop early warning systems for detecting human rights abuses. Machine learning algorithms can analyse large volumes of data from various sources to identify patterns and indicators of potential violations, enabling prompt intervention. AI can assist legal professionals in researching and analysing complex human rights cases. Natural language processing and machine learning algorithms can help identify relevant precedents, statutes, and legal arguments, saving time and improving the quality of legal research.

What should we be careful about?

AI systems can inherit biases from training data, leading to discriminatory outcomes. This can perpetuate existing inequalities and human rights violations. Efforts are being made to develop unbiased and fair AI models, but challenges remain in ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness in AI decision-making. AI-powered surveillance technologies pose significant risks to privacy and freedom of expression. Facial recognition, predictive policing, and mass surveillance systems can be used to monitor and control populations. Balancing security concerns with privacy rights is a complex challenge. 

AI automation can disrupt labour markets, leading to job displacement and economic inequality. Strategies such as reskilling and upskilling programs are crucial to mitigate these effects and ensure a just transition. AI systems can operate autonomously, making assigning responsibility for human rights violations challenging. Clear frameworks for accountability and oversight are necessary to address issues arising from AI’s use, particularly regarding decisions affecting individuals’ lives, such as in criminal justice or employment contexts.

To overcome these challenges, we need strong rules and guidelines for developing and using AI systems. Governments, civil society organisations, and the private sector should work together to create and enforce these regulations. It is important to ensure that AI technologies respect human rights and contribute to the well-being of society as a whole.

Learn more on AI Governance.

Human rights principles and the digital space

The human rights basket includes online aspects of freedom of expression, privacy and data protection, rights of people with disabilities and women’s rights online. Yet, other human rights come into place in the realm of digital policy, such as children’s rights, and rights afforded to journalists and the press.

The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online is the underlying principle for human rights on the Internet, and has been firmly established by the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council resolutions.

In addition to main instruments on human rights (see each issue for a list of relative instruments), the Internet Rights and Principles Dynamic Coalition, the Internet Rights & Principles Charter, and the APC Internet Rights Charter include human rights specifically related to the effects of the Internet on human rights. Other human rights documents and statements are listed under ‘Instruments’.

All human rights issues are cross-cutting and interdependent. For example, the freedom of expression and information is related to access to the Internet and net neutrality. Protection of minority rights is influenced by multilingualism and promotion of cultural diversity. Children’s rights have a strong security element. Ensuring the protection of privacy is important in dealing with cybersecurity.

Human rights-related issues are debated in various Internet governance processes, such as WSIS and the IGF. While human rights are usually explicitly addressed as a stand-alone issue, they intertwine with other issues such as net neutrality (access, freedom of expression, anonymity), cybersecurity (observing human rights while carrying out cybersecurity activities), content policy, etc. For the first time, after years of proposals and discussions, the IGF in 2015 held a main session on human rights, an important move signalling recognition of the link between human rights, access and ‘connecting the next billion’.

Bringing human rights into focus, the Snowden revelations of mass surveillance triggered the diplomatic process on online privacy within the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. and probably influenced the decision to appoint a UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age. In 2015, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet ‘for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011’ [also known as the Arab Spring], where social media and online communication played an important role; this also highlights the importance being given to human rights on the world stage. These developments underline a trend to recognise human rights as a priority for global digital policy. Freedom of expression, content policy and other human rights are now appearing on digital agendas, and will continue to gain in importance.

See also

Children’s digital rights

When it comes to promoting the benefits of technology for children while at the same time fostering a safe and secure online environment, stakeholders need to strike a careful balance between the need to safeguard children against inappropriate content and risky behaviour, and the need to respect children’s digital rights, including the right to access information and freedom of speech.

Child online protection tends to focus on the protective aspect of children’s use of technology. In fact, many argue that the Internet and technology have increased the risks for children, and therefore, children can reap the benefits only if the risks are mitigated. However, policies which focus exclusively on online risks can sideline the Internet’s potential to empower children.

A rights-based approach, based on children’s rights as enshrined in legal instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, aims at maximising the opportunities of the digital world for children and young people while protecting them from risks. Since this approach strikes a more careful balance between children’s digital rights and their need for protection, it is increasingly favoured by experts.

The protection aspects of children’s use of the Internet are also tackled from a security standpoint.