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12 Digital Development Terms Defined by Human Rights Defenders

By Guest Writer on May 3, 2023

human rights defender terms

Most of the conversations surrounding technology and human rights focus on top-down solutions, quite often ignoring the lived experiences and expertise of grassroots organisations, social movements, and communities. This results in more importance being given to technical training covering data technologies rather than an analysis of their encroachment into people’s lives.

In developing the Resist and Reboot, a playbook for solidarity in digital rights work, Gargi Sharma and Siddharth Peter De Souza encountered new terms and concepts in the course of their conversations. This is a brief overview of the concepts used in the playbook. Note that the meanings and applications of these concepts are highly contextual and their operationalization will require deep thinking and engagement with local communities.

  • Digital Rights are those human rights that can be applied and manifest in a digital sphere. They might be in relation to the right to life, the right to freedom of expression, the right to work in fair and dignified places of work, and can be read into existing natural and constitutional rights.
  • Digital Literacy is the practice where people are introduced not just to the ways in which technology works, but also to how it can impact their lives in known and familiar contexts.
  • Data Colonialism acknowledges that new technologies reproduce colonial relations in terms of organisation of capital and relations where technologies and data are extracted in the South and controlled in the North.
  • Decolonising Digital Rights is the process of recognising, unpacking, and addressing how systems and configurations around technology connect to oppressions and domination that often have historical roots.
  • Non-aligned Technology emerges from a movement which asks for a purposeful engagement with digital technologies. It emphasises the need for communities to be able to determine their interfaces with technology and the governance around it. It posits that data extraction is illegal and that there must be ways to say no to the use of such platforms. Doing so also allows for alternative spaces and ways to engage with data and technology.
  • Racial Justice in the technology sphere ensures that offline biases are not carried over to the digital realm, intensified by datafication, or that novel forms of oppression are not created due to the deployment of technological tools. Similarly, caste justice in the technology sphere ensures that there is no replication of or creation of new caste-based hierarchies in the digital realm. All concepts of affinity-based justice also anticipate equal opportunity in employment in the technology sector.
  • Feminist Data examines who is represented and by whom, whose interests are considered, and how to take up questions of power and justice in thinking about data and technology.
  • Feminist Internet enables meaningful, open, accessible and acceptable engagements within internet spaces.
  • Language Justice ensures that the operating systems, websites, and other technology offerings are available in the language of choice for the user. Internet access is then not limited only to the speakers of dominant languages.
  • State Surveillance: Governments and local authorities routinely monitor residents and collect data on their activities. This data collection may be done with consent (sharing biometrics to receive a national ID) or without (phone-tapping and the recent Pegasus scandal). State surveillance may be voluntary (downloading the COVID-19 contact tracing app) or coerced (refugees having to share their biometric and other personal data to apply for asylum).
  • Pandemic Technology indicates the proliferation in the deployment of technological interventions during the COVID-19 pandemic. This development has been characterised by market-making and techno- solutionism.
  • Authoritarianism: State surveillance, the deployment of pandemic technology, and lack of regulation may amplify and bolster authoritarianism.

We need to understand the importance of delving into different conceptions around what digital rights mean, particularly at various intersections, e.g. of gender, race, sexuality, caste or colonialism, as well as the importance of understanding the concept in the vernacular.

These conversations are also deeply embedded in many heterogeneous worlds; worlds where political, social and epistemic realities are different, which implies that in connecting to these distinct realities and taking account of the diversity in people, place and contexts, we have the potential to ground our conversations and make our solidarity more effective.

An edited version of Resist and Reboot, a playbook for solidarity in digital rights work by Gargi Sharma and Siddharth Peter De Souza

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