Assessing the Relationship of Information and Computer Tech to Human Rights

by Chris Borgen

On Thursday evening I was on a panel at International Law Weekend on the evolving nature of sovereignty. Sean Murphy gave a presentation on how social networking technology may affect sovereignty, but also how “Twitter revolution” claims have been overblown. As it turns out, we are a few days away from a whole conference on this question, sponsored by (among others) the Ford FoundGoogle, Facebook,

Cory Doctorow writes over at boingboing that:

Next week marks the inaugural Silicon Valley Human Rights Conference (AKA Rightscon) in San Francisco. This event will explore the role that technology plays in the expansion — or elimination — of human rights and the ways that technologists and high-tech firms can either help or harm humanity. In an age when American companies supply “deep packet inspection” technology to the Iranian government so that Iran’s secret police can figure out whom to brutally murder (to cite just one example among many), this is an important question.

At the Rightscon site, the organizers explain:

We’ve seen the exciting role communication technologies companies and social media platforms played in enabling people to challenge and topple authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. We’ve also seen the explosion of online activity and social networking here in the US and in markets across Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s time to celebrate the power of technology as a force for good!

Yet while the communication technologies have undoubtedly had a net positive impact on our global community, it has also, for example, enabled certain governments in their efforts to quash personal freedoms and disrupt social movements striving for reform. It is not the first time that technology has been used effectively and simultaneously for participation and exclusion, for revolution and repression, but the dramatic events unfolding in the Middle East and beyond have raised many questions about the rights and responsibilities of the technology sector globally and the relationship between corporations, governments and end-users – both here and abroad.

The goal of the conference is

to explore the following issues, which we hope will advance our collective understanding and ensure that we are prepared for the future:

  • Identifying and complying with human rights
  • Navigating issues of legal jurisdiction in a borderless virtual world
  • Emerging threats from the perspective of civil society
  • Government relations: how to front load a sustainable user and human rights agenda
  • Internet security, encryption, anonymity, and privacy by design.
  • There are fifteen (!) workshops, as well as other roundtables, with topics including: Forging New territory: Implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Business in the Technology Sector; Frontline lessons from other sectors: Learning what works in human rights (What are some of the lessons from apparel, computer hardware, and other industries that can be applied to the technology sector?); and Understanding government relations and navigating legal jurisdiction in a borderless world. The full agenda is here.

    If any Opinio Juris readers attend, please let us know what you think of the conference!

    One Response

    1. Hey they might like my 2010 paper: 
      Online Influence Space(s) and Digital Influence Waves: In Honor of Charly, 25 Ohio St. J. on Disp. Resol. 201-246 (2010).
      This smells of Silicon Valley attempting  to regain its virginity for the systems sold to oppressive regimes for the lucher.  From the sponsors that would appear to be it.

      Thanks also to Julian for the French corporate case for Bull assistance to torture on behalf of Gadhafy.



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