One of the most rapidly evolving challenges to human rights is technology, warned Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a speech to Freedom House.
For a time, it seemed that leaps in technology would tilt the balance of power away from human rights abusers in favor of human rights defenders. Yet, in many of the same places where human rights defenders are using technology for good, authoritarians and repressive regimes have abused technology to carry out their own transgressions.
Our human rights future is going to be shaped in four key areas - the first being surveillance technology, explained Secretary Blinken:
“Our digital lives make us all vulnerable to new forms of surveillance tech . . . Journalists, political activists, opposition figures, human rights advocates, others across nearly every continent have been targeted with commercial spyware that’s readily available to governments and nongovernmental actors alike.
“We know unfettered access to the internet is essential for defending human rights and human freedoms,” noted Secretary Blinken. But according to Freedom House, internet censorship and shutdowns by governments are now at an all-time high:
“Aida Ghajar’s news outlet Iran Wire used the internet to receive critical information from inside Iran to do everything from documenting an accurate death toll from the repression of protests, to sharing live footage of the regime’s crackdown, to gathering and disseminating reporting by its network and citizen journalists.”
“While we’re working to promote access to the internet for all, we’re also working to address . . . online harassment, abuse, disinformation,” noted Secretary Blinken.
Technology and human rights are converging over artificial intelligence and biotechnologies, including genomics, warned Secretary Blinken. “Advances in biotechnology have enabled genomic surveillance based on a person’s DNA, potentially facilitating abuses. And we’ve seen some of those, for example, committed by the People’s Republic of China against Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. We’re also concerned by reports of the spread of mass DNA collection to Tibet as an additional form of control and surveillance over the Tibetan population.”
The State Department will continue to ramp up emergency support and legal assistance to those who are out there defending human rights around the world and work with its civil society partners, like Freedom House, on how to best defend and advance human rights in the face evolving threats.