Digitization and Human Rights

IAF Seminar Paper
Message18.11.2019
Seminar Paper: Digitization and Human Rights
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

“Do you see the L?” - “Yes, we see the L,” came the response

This dialog took apparently place via a long distance phone call and made history, because it accompanied a particular experiment:

For the first time ever, a word was being typed into one computer and could be read on another within the four-node network between UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The complete word was supposed to be “login” and even if the system crashed after typing the “g”: a revolution has just started!

This happened in 1969 – the idea of allowing humans to communicate via computers in a network had only emerged roughly a decade earlier.

Subsequently the World Wide Web came into being and with it a completely new world emerged. One full of opportunities, knowledge, communication, information, transparency - a world that seemed to become a more levelled one than ever before. Humans are still working on more connections and networks, are inventing new technologies or are making improvements all of which were unimaginable not long ago.

The internet today is part of everyday life. Nearly everybody is part of this new digitally connected world and everything that has an impact on it can instantly affect everybody, every community with its institutions, rules, social norms. This can question and change structures of power or cooperations within and between communities; relationships that have evolved over a very long time.

Looking at the digital realm today inspires to celebrate technological progress and, at the same time sparks the urge to examine its impact on our societies, our values and principles. For liberals freedom is the ultimate measuring stick. What is happening now to values and principles such us example the rule of law, property rights, freedom of speech, freedom of choice, or competition? Does digitalisation support or endanger individual liberties and rights? How can we protect earlier achievements towards more freedom in the world and develop them even further in the future?

This paper is the result of 22 participants exploring some of these and other questions during the recent IAF Seminar titled “Safeguarding Freedom in the Digital World”.

Dr. Stefan Melnik and Enikö Gal, both passionate liberals and knowledgeable defenders of human rights and individual liberties, have composed and facilitated this programme. They created a wonderful space for exploring the challenges and thinking through possible solutions. Our guests and friends from around the world enjoyed the experience and made extensive use of working together. They are happy to share with you their most important results by putting together this paper.

Bettina Solinger
International Academy for Leadership (IAF)