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.

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, University of Leiden

Track 2
Aviva de Groot, PhD candidate, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology and Society (TILT), Tilburg University / Jheronimus Academy of Data Science (JADS)
Jenneke Evers, PhD candidate, Leiden University, eLaw, Center for Law and Digital Technologies
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, Leiden University
Jef Ausloos, Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Information law (IViR)
Anna Marieke Weerdmeester, PhD candidate, Utrecht University
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
Martin Husovec, Assistant Professor Tilburg Law School
Simone van der Hof, Center for Law and Digital Technologies, 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

Tarlach McGonagle is currently involved in, or leading, a number of activities at/for the Council of Europe and the OSCE. For instance, he was recently elected to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Experts on Quality Journalism in the Digital Age (for details, please see here) and he recently drafted the Tallinn Guidelines on National Minorities and the Media in the Digital Age for the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. His academic profile is available here.  

Aviva de Groot’s legal research focuses on humans and technology, their mutual influence and effects on human rights. She has extensive professional legal experience in the field of administration law, particularly on cases revolving around automated decision-making. Information and ensuing power imbalances resulting from different levels of (technical) knowledge have her special attention. These interests lie at the heart of her PhD research on transparency of AI/algorithmic decision-making. Previously, at the University of Amsterdam (Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies), she was coordinator of an interdisciplinary minor programme on privacy. With an earlier career in film-making, Aviva has ample experience with working in dynamic environments and coordinating diverse projects.