Human Rights in the Digital Age

The working group on "human rights in the digital age" will initially comprise two main tracks.

Track 1: "New frontiers of free expression and public debate in the digital age"
Free and robust public debate is a prerequisite for pluralistic democratic societies. However, in many countries, the civic space in which such debate takes place is shrinking fast, threatened by repressive laws and authoritarian regimes and politicians who would rather stifle criticism and democratic dissent. Increasingly, the growing range of actors in public debate – journalists, media actors, NGOs, academics, bloggers, human rights defenders, etc. – are being subjected to violence, threats, harassment, arbitrary detention, vexatious litigation, etc. While the Internet has brought unprecedented opportunities for individual mass communication, it has also given rise to other threats to public debate that are specific to the online environment. For instance, new private gate-keepers have emerged, which control access to and influence the terms and topics of public debate. These are typically non-State actors which enter into contractual relationships with their users. These developments prompt probing questions about whether and how existing human rights frameworks can safeguard robust, pluralistic public debate in which a diversity of voices and critical opinions can be articulated without fear. And how can trust be earned and facts and truth be defended in a civic space that is being swamped by waves of disinformation and so-called ‘fake news’? The rights, duties and responsibilities of all relevant actors – from tech giants to individual social media users – require re-thinking and repurposing for the digital age. These and other issues will feature centrally in the research-related activities pursued in Track 1.

Track 2: “New private and collective dimensions: protecting (data) privacy and other human rights in the age of Artificial Intelligence”
In recent years, there has been a surge of academic interest in the rights to privacy, data protection, and non-discrimination. This can be explained partly by the affordances of advanced technological developments, and partly by the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. The far-reaching regulatory and practical implications of advanced data analysis are testing the resilience of existing paradigms and understandings of human rights protection.
It is increasingly challenging to invoke individual protection for effects that are distributed on collective scales. In the meantime, developments of e.g., automated decision-making and personalised communication are changing both the individual and collective dimensions, spawning research into new concepts like group autonomy and group privacy.
This track will engage with the growing scholarship on the new challenges that technology poses for the human rights framework. Taking privacy, data protection and non-discrimination as a starting point, participating researchers will identify connections and crossroads with all affected human rights.

Tracks 1 and 2 are not mutually exclusive. Their thematic overlap includes, e.g. the chilling effects caused by surveillance of journalists and other contributors to public debate; Internet intermediaries’ duties and responsibilities in respect of human rights, and liability for breaches of their users’ rights to freedom of expression, privacy and data protection. Another cross-cutting theme is media/digital literacy. In the digital age, the promotion of media/digital literacy calls for strong emphasis on acquiring knowledge of human rights issues and technological know-how. Furthermore, the overarching theme also covers other pressing issues that do not fall squarely in either Track 1 or 2.

Track 1
Tarlach McGonagle, senior researcher, Institute for Information Law (IViR), Amsterdam Law School, University of Amsterdam and Professor of Media Law & Information Society, Leiden Law School, Leiden University
Anna Marieke Weerdmeester, PhD candidate, Utrecht University

Track 2
Jenneke Evers, PhD candidate, Center for Law and Digital Technologies (eLaw), Leiden University 
Silvia de Conca, PhD candidate, Tilburg University, LTMS home of TILT & TILEC

Working group members
Irene Kamara, PhD candidate, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (TILT)/ Tilburg Law School
Joao Quintais, Senior Researcher Faculty of Law, Information Law, University of Amsterdam
Stefan Kulk, Assistant Professor, Utrecht University
Bart Custers, Professor of Law and Data Science, Leiden University
Mark Leiser, Assistant Professor at the Center for Law and Digital Technologies (eLaw), Leiden University
Jef Ausloos, Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Information law (IViR)
Corina Heri, Postdoctoral researcher at the Amsterdam Center for International Law
Laura Henderson, Assistant Professor of international law and human rights at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) and the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges
Vicky Breemen, Assistant Professor, information law and fundamental rights
Paddy Leerssen, PhD candidate at the IViR, University of Amsterdam
Martin Husovec, Assistant Professor Tilburg Law School
Simone van der Hof, Center for Law and Digital Technologies (eLaw), Leiden University
Max van Drunen, PhD candidate at the Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam
Leon Trapman, PhD candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen
Claudia Quelle, PhD candidate at Tilburg Law School
Mando RachovitsaAssistant Professor of Public International Law, University of Groningen
Alan Sears, Researcher, Lecturer and PhD Candidate at the Center for Law and Digital Technologies (eLaw), Leiden University
Lottie Lane, Assistant Professor of Public International Law, University of Groningen
Aviva de Groot, PhD candidate, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (TILT), Tilburg University / Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS)
Eva Nave, PhD candidate at eLaw - Center for Law and Digital Technology, Leiden University
Stavroula (Stevi) Kitsou, PhD researcher at Maastricht University


Ongoing initiatives
Gown and Town 2.0: harnessing academic expertise to strengthen fundamental rights discourse in the digital age.