Digital Human Rights and Institutional Safeguards

July 2022

Jaime Cheng and Tina Lee

With the development of emerging technologies, many digital controversies that are yet to be resolved have arisen, such as the digital divide, personal data leakage, AI algorithm discrimination, cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and Deepfake, etc.  Since traditional human rights concepts can no longer fully protect people’s rights in the digital space, “Digital Human Right” has become an issue that should be addressed.

The resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2021 resolved that “The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.” and issued the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which is highlighted below:

1. Place human rights at the center of regulatory frameworks and legislation on digital technologies.

2. Greater guidance on the application of human rights standards in the digital age.

3. Address protection gaps created by evolving digital technologies.

4. Discourage blanket internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services.

5. Human rights-based domestic laws and practices for the protection of data privacy.

6. Clear, company-specific actions to protect privacy rights and other human rights.

7. Adopt and enhance safeguards related to digital identity.

8. Protect people from unlawful or unnecessary surveillance.

9. Human-rights based laws and approaches to address illegal and harmful online content.

10. To ensure online safe spaces, transparent and accountable content governance frameworks that protect freedom of expression, avoid overly restrictive practices and protect the most vulnerable.

In January 2022, the European Union also issued the “European Declaration on Digital Rights and Principles for the Digital Decade” to clarify the essence of digital human rights. The Declaration stated that people should be put at the center of the digital transformation, and everyone should have access to affordable, high-speed, and secure digital connectivity and freedom of choice in the digital environment. The Declaration also mentioned from a sustainability perspective that everyone should have access to accurate information on the environmental impact and energy consumption of digital products and services, allowing them to make responsible choices.

On April 28, 2022, the representatives of Taiwan and more than 50 countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom, signed A Declaration for the Future of the Internet online, pledging to protect and respect human rights and fundamental freedom in all digital ecosystems, and prevent the Internet or algorithmic technologies from being abused for surveillance and oppression, which are incompatible with international human rights principles.  In addition, it supports digital literacy and skill acquisition and development to enable individuals to overcome the digital divide, and protects the confidentiality of personal privacy, personal data, electronic communications, or information stored on personal electronic terminals in accordance with national and international laws that protect public safety.

The United Nations guidelines and A Declaration for the Future of the Internet have established the basis for the institutional regulation of digital human rights, and their subsequent application and development in practice are worthy of continued attention.