Human Rights, Democracy and Digital Technology

Course content

This course examines the promise and peril of emerging digital technologies in the context of human rights protections and underlying democratic values, and probes into the legal challenges raised by modern technologies in these areas. The course also draws on the ongoing technology related discussions in Denmark linked to democracy and human rights (e.g. digital-ready legislation; the Danish Ministry of Justice Commission Report (2020) which examines the relationship between social media and freedom of expression).

 

First, the course will begin with an introduction around the concepts of law, regulation, human rights and emerging digital technologies. This introductory section will elaborate upon the rationale for investigating the challenges and opportunities posed by digital technologies to the protection of human rights and in upholding democratic values.

 

This will be followed by the second section focusing upon a critical examination of the effects these technologies and their applications will have on specific human rights (such as non-discrimination, the right to privacy and freedom of expression) as articulated under the human rights conventions and other related frameworks and instruments (e.g. 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ICCPR, ECHR, Human Rights Council Resolutions 20/8 of 5 July 2012 and 26/13 of 26 June 2014 on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet).

 

The third section examines the relationship between digital technologies and crime, including mass atrocities such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It is further subdivided into two threads: (1) how digital technologies may enable and facilitate the commission of crime; and (2) how the application of modern technologies can facilitate digital investigations and the preservation of digital evidence both internationally and domestically. In the context of human rights and democracy, this section also engages in the discussions surrounding interference and other forms of martial activities (whether passing or falling short of the threshold for armed conflict) aimed at exploiting an adversary’s vulnerabilities (e.g. information warfare, cyberwarfare, drone warfare, and autonomy in weapons systems).

 

Finally, the course concludes with a section that focuses on future gazing and problem-finding: exploiting the adjacent possibles opened up by the course to chart the edge of where digital technologies interact with law, human rights and democracy. This sets students up to navigate through the myriad of legal responses to the challenges posed by digital technologies already tabled, as well as inviting students to come up with their own interpretation and response towards the legal issues raised (either in the global or national context), as they work towards their final written assessment.

Learning outcome

Main course objectives will enable students to:

  • Present and explain theoretical and practical legal issues arising in the emerging field of human rights, democracy and technology;
  • Identify complex legal problems at the intersection of human rights and technology, as well as democracy and technology.
  • Find professional global and/or national solutions for legal problems in light of the lack of the adequate regulatory framework within the field of human rights, democracy and technology; as well as the misuse of new technologies in violation of the fundamental human rights).
  • Apply legal analysis to the actual problems in the area of human rights and technology, and democracy and technology; and analyse the existing accountability mechanisms under international and national law to uphold digital rights. 
  • Present and challenge arguments pertinent to the subject matter of the course;
  • Develop critical skills in assessing the existing state of the legal framework (international, regional and/or national) governing human rights and technology, and come up with reasoned theoretical and practical solutions with respect to the design of new normative solutions aimed at the prevention of the abusive use of technology leading to human rights violations or interfering with democratic processes.  

case studies, group work, in-class discussions

There is no uniform textbook in the field. Therefore, study course materials will be a compilation of relevant book chapters, research articles, policy papers, legislation (international and national), relevant case law, and reports (e.g. UN, EU, CoE, national parliamentary reports). The volume of the assigned study materials will not exceed 750 pages as requested by the Faculty’s rules (70 pages of assigned readings per each study block).

 

Books

1) Molly K Land and Jay D Aronson (eds), New Technologies for Human Rights Law and Practice, CUP (2018) (selected chapters).

2) Rikke Frank Jørgensen, Human Rights in the Age of Platforms, MIT Press, 2019 (selected chapters)

 

Selected reports

3) House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Disinformation and ‘fake news’ (Final Report Eighth Report of Session 2017–19 Report, together with formal minutes relating to the report Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed 14 February 2019), 111 p (selected parts)

4) Betænkning om ytringsfrihedens rammer og vilkår i Danmark nr 1573  (2020) (selected parts, for Danish students only)

5) A Koenig, The New Forensics: Using Open Source Information to Investigate Grave Crimes, Human Right Center, University of California, Berkeley (2018), 22 p

It is desirable that students have completed a basic course in human rights and/or public international law. Furthermore, an awareness of and interest in developing digital technologies would be an asset.

A good knowledge of English is a minimum requirement.

The course tailors well with the Faculty’s strategic direction on the promotion of digitalization in legal studies and CECS’s research agenda.

Oral
Individual
Collective
Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
ECTS
15 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individual written assignment
Aid
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 356,5
  • Seminar
  • 56
  • English
  • 412,5