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When crossing into digital, technology can be a powerful tool that both enables and compromise human rights. While new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and blockchain can allow the most vulnerable communities to access basic rights, the rapid advancements of these technologies raise serious concerns around inclusion, privacy, and freedom. The mass transition of our society into the digital space following the pandemic has amplified this discussion. As the digital space expands, it seems increasingly lawless and wild.


Today, there is a growing recognition that access to the internet is a fundamental human right – the right to connectivity! But at this point, there is no legal framework for what human rights look like in the digital space. Strong actors, like UNESCO, have articulated four principles, the so-called ROAM principles for internet universality. The acronym stands for rights, openness, accessibility, and multi-stakeholder participation, which are to guide an open internet accessible to all where human rights are respected. While serving as a good starting point to protect and empower citizens, the world is still waiting for global and potentially more progressive guidelines for rights in the digital.


For forcibly displaced, being able to prove who they are is often the key prerequisite to access basic rights. But what happens when ambitions like this are crossed with digital? What new ethical questions, barriers, and vulnerabilities must we consider when digital intertwines with rights? In the following future, we explore both opportunities and risks for accessing and enjoying rights through digitalisation, and we ask of you to consider:


For forcibly displaced, how will digital enlarge or shrink the access and enjoyment of human rights and do access and enjoyment correlate in the digital?


Below, you find three selected accelerators, most prominently influencing the development of rights & digitalization.

Digital needs new rights

Welcome to the Wild Wild Digital - a revolution in full motion. Accelerated by increased connectivity and the use of technologies, an inexorable stream of digital data – so-called data fumes - exposes previously invisible populations and fuels the revolution. The data revolution has so far been a technical one, led by Facebook and Google’s datafication of everyday life, that traded users’ digital interactions for economic gain in a space without ethics and rights.


With that, we entered the age of data colonialism - a global phenomenon where governments and corporations claim ownership of and privatises the data produced by users and citizens. The social order here, however, has disturbing implications on basic human rights such as freedom of expression, right to privacy, and justice. Especially for forcibly displaced a power imbalance between international responders and affected recipients prevails.

In the case of humanitarian aid, the consent for providing personal data in exchange for aid services is often given by ticking a box. But the extent to which the tick symbolises an informed and liberated consent is questionable with migrants responding that they had little or no understanding of the implications of sharing data, confidentiality, or data privacy. When even a few likes on Facebook is sufficient to determine a persons’ taste and unique preferences – how do we govern something as private as forcibly displaced biometric and personal information?

Zooming out, the wild digital sphere is a global one. Governments already harmonise national laws and policies on an international basis and the first pilots for cross-border rights are on the rise. As an example, the UK and Singapore began negotiating a digital trade agreement that ensures personal data protection while allowing free and trusted cross-border data flows for trade.

As the amount of data accelerates, the need for new rights becomes even more prevalent. What rights for digital are needed and for forcibly displaced specifically, what should they protect? Which rights do the digitally excluded lose? What if, producing data would not imply becoming digitally visible?



Digital IDs grant access to human rights

In a recent article, Forbes idealises blockchain technology as the gateway to equal access of rights. A stance, that many cases appear to support. The Ethiopian Government will for instance provide blockchain-based digital identity to 5 million students and teachers to boost education across the country. In Jordan, the UNHCR applies biometric authentication technology to enable 100,000 forcibly displaced to purchase groceries. And India plans to launch a national digital ID system which would be the world’s largest digital ID system holding approx. 1.2 billion users – a system that by design aims to include citizens, migrants, and forcibly displaced.

According to the World Bank, 1 billion of the world’s population experience challenges to prove who they are. Tragically, identification is a must-have when obtaining basic human rights. But even existing ID schemes lack to include all. Uganda’s ID scheme excludes one-third of all adults - the majority being women and elderly people - from accessing healthcare due to a lack of verifiable identity. And in the humanitarian sector, the lack of IDs reportedly led 63% of humanitarian agencies to withhold some aid services.

Leveraging the blockchain technology to build a common standard that can act as an identity passport, could empower individuals with equal identity terms and access to education, health care, work, credit, and much more. These emerging digital ID systems are built on the principle of Self-Sovereign Identity (SSI) which refers to decentralising control over credentials to the individual - a real paradigm shift that liberates the individual. Here, technology can be a forceful power in supporting human rights. But while digital IDs can make human rights accessible, they can also have the opposite effect of denying access. In countries that leapfrog from no legal identities to digital identities, the digital will exclude the ones that are dependent on non-digital alternatives.

What could mitigate and protect the digitally excluded ones from losing their human rights when everything moves digital? Is digital identification a barrier or enabler of human rights? What risks for forcibly displaced might arise in the new paradigm of the liberated individual? And what new risks emerge for the ones that don't want to be seen, don't want to be registered?

Social movements amplified by digital

In the digital sphere, social movements unlock a new arena and means to raise awareness on injustices. First introduced by Twitter in 2009, the hashtag (#) served as a way to highlight ideas and bundle certain conversations. Today, the hashtag serves as a powerful tool for gathering crowds and raising attention on relevant issues.

With “#metoo”, the digital voices screamed and broadcasted the pernicious impacts of sexual violence and harassment to the world. With #BlackLivesMatter, a digital movement ignited the nationwide protest on police-related deaths of black Americans. At its peak in 2020, the #BlackLivesMatter was tweeted 47.8 million times on Twitter over the course of a few days. The hashtag movement reinforced the already existing physical movement boosting the focus on the violation of black American’s rights. The #metoo movement initiated multiple changes from state laws to compensations for survivors. 

It is not only social movements, political groups and activists also increasingly harness the power of technology to organise, show and demand action on human rights issues. To name one, Tella, allows users to capture and document verifiable footage of rights violations in a protected way with limited or no internet connectivity. Another strong example of the so-called crowd-mapping phenomenon, is the Ushahidi platform. Ushahidi crowdsources geographic data via text, Twitter, phone apps, etc. to create maps that are used to spot human rights violations in Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Similarly, the digital tool MIND (Managing Information for Natural Disasters) currently running as a prototype, analyses data from Twitter, Google searches, Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap to inform humanitarian response after natural disasters.

When the voice of the mass bundles and accelerates through digital, it gains the power to unfold the rights of the most vulnerable ones. We dare to think that digital movements will increasingly function as a warning signal when society oversteps key values and fundamental human rights. How can we leverage digital movements to advocate for the rights of non-connected communities? How can we ensure that attention and protection is raised to those who are not seen?


In this future, we explored how digital enables access to rights and supports the mass in upholding our societal values and raise awareness on injustices. But it has also prevailed the dangers that arise when no sufficient regulations are in place to protect rights in the wild, digital space. Here, basic human rights such as freedom, justice, and privacy might fall through the cracks. In the future, digital literacy must move beyond the mere ability to use digital solutions and a protecting global layer will be key for humans to navigate safely in complex digital systems.


In the signals, we discovered how digital can be a means to predict disasters, and used to monitor and collectively collect data on human rights violations. We discovered how legal protests and court cases step into the digital and who can execute rights is fundamentally changing. The trends and signals highlight how the digitalisation might affect and change rights going forward. Coming back to where we started the chapter, we challenge you to connect the dots and ask yourself again:


For forcibly displaced, how will digital enlarge or shrink the access and enjoyment of human rights?

  • What new ethical questions arise with digital?

  • What are digital rights and what should they protect?  How do rights to access digital relate to more ‘traditional rights’?

  • How can digital movements offer forcibly displaced a voice and advocate for the rights of non-connected communities?

  • What are digital rights amounting to and what will it look like in the future?


These questions and more, we will explore together on our journey forward!

So what?


Below, you find signals from the edge as well as from within the humanitarian sector. Click the signals to explore them further and use the arrows to navigate between them. Here, we encourage you to navigate this section with a “what if” mindset

- and note down any ideas and thoughts that may arise.

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