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The Vital Need for an Innovators’ Network to Enable Human Rights

Aug 21, 2019

To date, conversations about the Digital Industry’s impact on human rights have focused on addressing 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 to manage these issues.

We believe now is the right time to add to this conversation 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) released the report, #EnablingRights - The Transformative Potential of Digital to Enable People's Rights 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, “Enabling Technology for 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.

ICT solutions are already being applied constructively to help address and arrest human rights abuses. The #Enabling Rights Report, along with this digital platform’s searchable database of over 100 examples (and growing), showcase the inspiring range of innovative 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. Despite the potential of digital technology to enable rights remains largely untapped the ICT industry has the capability to scaling up technology solutions supporting a wide range of needs that human rights defenders have.

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 is proud to launch the Innovators’ Network to Enable Human Rights (“Innovators’ Network” and “INHR”). 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.  Part of the Innovators’ Network is this digital platform that will serve as a leading information and resource center that identifies trends in innovative uses of digital technology for rights, defines good practices and provides guidance and tools for the ICT industry and relevant stakeholders. The platform includes a searchable database of over 100 examples of enabling technology for rights. It shares resources, tools and a blog providing perspectives and trends. A private platform will enable the industry and human rights defenders to build partnerships, exchange ideas and develop technology solutions to address issues in a secure and protected online area.

Both the promise and concern of the ICT 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. GeSI looks forward to working with all those serious in collaborating to advance technology for human rights.

Jim Gowen & Luis Neves

About the author

Jim Gowen & Luis Neves

Jim Gowen is Chairman of the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative & Luis Neves is the Managing Director/CEO.

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