The report highlights examples of how ICT solutions are being applied constructively to help address and arrest human rights abuses

To date, conversations about the Digital Industry’s impact on human rights have focused on its business practices (i.e. adopting policies consistent with human rights standards and stakeholders’ expectations) and relationships (i.e. encouraging entities it interacts with to adopt such policies). Across these two, interconnected pillars, the industry has been asked to address salient issues such as privacy and freedom of expression, data and cyber security, labor rights in the supply chain, the misuse of technology by customers and contractors, and the dual-sided nature of technology in which digital technology has the potential to be used for good or ill-intent. A wide number of initiatives and partnerships already exist on these two “pillars” of action.

We believe now is the right time to add to this conversation a third, interconnected pillar: the potential of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to support the efforts of those working to protect human rights.

Following a participative consultation process with civil society and interested stakeholders, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) is pleased to release this report addressing the application of innovative digital technology to support human rights.

The report suggests that the ICT industry, in collaboration with all interested stakeholders, should take action to develop and apply what could be called “technology for human rights.” This can be defined as the application of new or existing digital solutions used for the express purpose of supporting civil-political, socio-economic, and developmental rights.

The report highlights examples of how ICT solutions are being applied constructively to help address and arrest human rights abuses. Yet, the human rights benefits of digital solutions such as blockchain for responsible supply chain practices; GPS and data analytics to protect land rights; or civic tech allowing greater citizen scrutiny of public spending, remains untapped. The ICT industry has the capability to scale up technology solutions supporting a wide range of needs that human rights defenders have.

For the ICT industry, the report also defines a clear business case to help develop and apply technology solutions for human rights. The core elements of the business case include the ability of technology for human rights to:

1.     Help address competitive risks that affect an entire industry or geographic market;

2.    Support long-term commercial growth;

3.    Enhance revenue;

4.    Support a company’s approach to sustainability and corporate responsibility both in terms of risk reduction and revenue generation;

5.    Help to ensure an environment of trust and responsibility.

For technology to reach its potential to enable human rights, the ICT industry will need to collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders to address key challenges that pose risks to the effective deployment of digital solutions for human rights.

To that end, GeSI proposes to create a Technology for Human Rights Innovators’ Network to Use ICT to Enable Human Rights (“Innovators’ Network”). The mission of the Innovators’ Network will be to coordinate the collective capabilities of ICT industry leaders, human rights organisations, policy makers, academia, and social innovators, to accelerate and scale-up the development and application of technology that enables human rights.

At the time of publication of this report, both the promise and concern of the industry are in the public’s eye. Companies have been called to testify about their practices associated with the protection of customer data. Debates are underway regarding whether artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will bring in a new era of economic and human development, or whether they will threaten livelihoods and well-being. Europe has launched a major regulatory framework, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), focused on data privacy and security. These events raise the following question: can technology help protect individual freedom, or will it be used by those with bad intentions to take freedoms away?

No easy answers exist. The first step involves building understanding of the role that digital solutions can play in enabling and promoting individuals’ rights; the second step involves identifying the existing challenges and discussing issues. The third step, and our ultimate goal, means partnering with a variety of stakeholders to provide leadership, make the right choices, and take corrective action collaboratively on developing and applying technologies designed to enable and promote the rights of individuals everywhere.

The Innovators’ Network is intended to create a long term, open and transparent dialogue with key stakeholders to advance ways to build trust in the responsible practices of the ICT industry. As human rights defenders become aware and engaged in the industry’s efforts, pathways should open for collaboration to enhance the industry’s responsible business practices, business relationships, and efforts to advance technology for human rights.

Enhancing human rights is a continuous process. Technology, while not a panacea, has an important, enabling role to play. This report illustrates some ways in which the ICT industry can support this process. GeSI looks forward to working with all those serious in collaborating to advance technology for human rights.

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