The Digital Disruption of Human Rights Foundations

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This chapter tackles the challenges posed by digitalisation to the very foundations of human rights from three different vantage points. The underlying technology of the internet, and the capacities that it enables, can be understood by foregrounding different characteristics that each emphasise contrasting core challenges.

If the internet is viewed as a system, taking a holistic perspective, this leads to the prospect of system behaviours that impose limits upon external control and influence, and introduces the prospect for ‘normal accidents’ to occur. If the internet is taken as a network, adopting connectedness as its key feature, then questions of threshold and causation can undermine human rights protections. This is because cumulative outcomes of the network might surpass the thresholds necessary to base a human rights violation, while each individuated and isolated consideration might fall so markedly short that these do not even appear as relevant to human rights. Finally, if the internet provides the underlying infrastructure that enables digital technologies to function as a distributor and dissipator, posing problems for the orientation of human rights law with its focus upon confronting centralised state action and state power.

Taken together, adopting these perspectives offer the possibility to unpack the challenges posed by digitalisation to the very foundations of contemporary human rights law. The digital disruption of human rights flows from the different type of challenges that digitalisation poses to more orthodox concerns in the field of human rights, such as those revolving around the right to privacy, due process, and the freedom of expression.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman Rights, Digital Society and the Law : A Research Companion
EditorsMart Susi
Number of pages12
Publication date1 Jun 2019
ISBN (Print)9781138493063
ISBN (Electronic)9781351025386
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
SeriesRoutledge Research in Human Rights Law

ID: 201864415