Human Rights and Technology “A New Hope” or “The Empire Strikes Back”?

I found this video on The Chaos Computer Club (CCC) channel on YouTube. CCC is Europe’s largest association of hackers. The CCC is based in Germany and other German-speaking countries. The video is from December 2013 so a bit old.

The speaker commences by discussing positive ways that technology has helped further the cause of human rights, but how on the other hand it provides the tools to violate human rights and there is the fear we are moving towards a surveillance state.

The Human rights are being trampled in the name of national security. There is no internationally consistent definition of national security. To the intelligence agencies anything that secures their  power in the world appears to be justified for national security.

Technology can solve a lot of human rights issues and you can challenge surveillance with encryption but this applies to content but not meta data. You can have PC security but will this prevent hacking by government. You can engage in a security raise with the intelligence agencies and you will probably lose. So we need political solutions. We need some cooperation and to join forces. If you think technology can solve security problems then you don’t understand technology and you do not understand your problems.

The speaker notes Resolution L13 of the Human Rights Council of 5 July 2012:

“The Human Rights Council…

1. Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with articles 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The speaker explores key rights relevant to digital:

Freedom of expression & Information Freedom : think of the whistleblower Edward Snowden. Art. 19 UDHR, Art, 19 ICCPR, Art.10 ECHR. Should there be a human right to the protection as a whistleblower? ECHR: Stoll v Germany – little scope for restrictions, Guja v Moldova – criteria for the assessment of proportionality. See also Johannesburg Principles on national security, freedom of expression and access to information (1996) and Tshwane Principles on national security and the right to information (2013).

Right to privacy: Art 12 UDHR, Art 17 ICCPR, Art 8 ECHR covers content and metadata. There are limits on surveillance: must be based on a legal norm, pursue a legitimate aim and be proportionate.

Other rights are: access to information; right to privacy; data protection; copyright / intellectual property; freedom of assembly; protection of the virtual home.

Tim Berners-Lee August 2013

“I believe we have reached a critical juncture where if we do not unite and fight for our rights to privacy, freedom of information, freedom of association and freedom of expression in this new digital world, they will be taken away .[…] Human rights defenders like Amnesty are critical to win the battle.” 

The CCC describes itself as “a galactic community of life forms, independent of age, sex, race or societal orientation, which strives across borders for freedom of information….” In general, the CCC advocates more transparency in government, freedom of information, and the human right to communication. Supporting the principles of the hacker ethic, the club also fights for free universal access to computers and technological infrastructure.

Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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