Big Data and the Right to Health: Explaining Ourselves!

Editor’s note: This post forms part of a larger series addressing key issues related to human rights, technology & big data. 

In work stream three of the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project, we are examining three overriding questions about big data and each of these we look at from a right to health perspective. In this blog we explain what does a ‘right to health perspective’ means in this research.

Our three big data and technology questions are:

  1. Can technology, especially e(lectronic)-health, m(obile)-health and telemedicine, contribute to the targeting and practical operationalization of health rights and if so, how?
  2. Can big data enhance the accountability of duty-bearers in relation to health-rights?
  3. Is big data generating evidence that human rights-shaped interventions contribute to health and other gains?

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Where do we go from here? Business & Human Rights Post- #BrexiTrump

By Tara Van Ho

This year’s UN Forum on Business and Human Rights took place last week. Repeatedly, speakers raised the significance of #brexiTrump (the combination of the #brexit and Trump votes) while questioning its impact for the field. This post attempts to respond to questions from colleagues in the field about where we go from here and how we support students who want to pursue B&HR.

For those unfamiliar with business and human rights, it’s the subfield that focuses on how businesses negatively impact human rights and how we should best respond to those impacts. The focus is on the negative impacts because while we recognize that businesses – all businesses – can have positive impacts on human rights, businesses are not allowed to “offset” their negative human rights impacts by providing positive ones elsewhere. Instead, businesses are expected, at a minimum, to respect the range of human rights for all people, to mitigate any threats they can identify in advance, and to remedy any impacts that are unavoidable. Businesses are to take responsibility for their impacts across the range of human rights (the leading document calls for them to consider the rights present in the UDHR, ICCPR, ICESCR, and the ILO’s fundamental Conventions) and for all individuals they impact.

So in light of #brexiTrump, where should the field go? I have three “takeaways” for the field of B&HR. Continue reading

Big Data, Mass Surveillance, and The Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project


Editor’s note: This post forms part of a larger series addressing key issues related to human rights, technology & big data. 

Digital technologies have permeated our everyday lives. Nothing exemplifies this more than the smartphone. These small hand held devices help us communicate with one another, schedule our activities, and procure knowledge from the Internet. While smartphones bring new levels of convenience to our lives, what is too often overlooked is that they are also excellent surveillance devices. Smartphones produce extensive personal data about who we communicate with and how frequently (email, text, SMS, social media apps), the places we visit and how frequently we visit them (GPS, Map apps), our well-being and medical history (health, psychology, and fitness apps), our Internet browsing patterns (web apps), our friend lists and social networks, and much more. This data is constantly being harvested, potentially enabling others to peer into our personal lives and decide what kinds of products and services to recommend to us, whether or not to employ us, or if we pose a threat to national security.

Despite the pivotal role played by digital technologies in our everyday lives, little is known about how they document our experiences and how the resulting data is collected, by whom it is collected, and how it is ultimately used. Work stream two of the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project aims to help fill this gap in our knowledge. This post introduces readers to the controversial relationship between digital technologies, big data, and mass surveillance, as well as the research conducted by work stream two.

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Human Rights in the Digital Age: The Perils of Big Data and Technology (Part II)

Editor’s note: This post forms part of a larger series addressing key issues related to human rights, technology & big data. 

Last week, we discussed the promises of big data and technology in relation to human rights. This week, we turn to the perils and consider the risks to human rights including, but beyond, the right to privacy.

Today, there is little that corporations and states do not know about us. Our smartphones and other devices log who we communicate with, track our locations and record our lifestyle preferences. We routinely share information on social media and with applications that we use either on our smartphones or other devices, such as healthcare-related monitors, fitness tracking applications, and navigation services. Furthermore, as Snowden revealed, states have an unprecedented ability to conduct mass surveillance, including through the interception of communications and communications data. The United Kingdom intelligence agencies, for example, have been covertly collecting bulk personal data since the 1990s, which was recently found to be unlawful by the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (the full judgment can be found here). State surveillance activities are often supplemented by collaborating with other states through intelligence sharing arrangements, or by engaging or attempting to require technology companies to hand over information – as the dispute between FBI and Apple attests.

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Human Rights in the Digital Age: The Promises of Big Data and Technology (Part I)

Editor’s note: This post forms part of a larger series addressing key issues related to human rights, technology & big data. 

The world is only just beginning to understand the impact and change that big data and associated technology are bringing to how we live and interact. Technology is becoming more powerful and multifunctional by the day. It is reducing or removing human input in areas such as intelligence gathering and decision-making processes. The amount and type of information that can be collected and stored, and the capacity to process large datasets to uncover patterns and correlations, are unprecedented. This paradigm shift in technological ability and capacity raises questions as to how we can best protect and promote human rights in the digital age. Continue reading

Introducing the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Blog Series

The Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the University of Essex, maps and analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of big data and associated technologies from a human rights perspective. The Project assesses whether fundamental human rights concepts  and the framework itself is adequate or needs to be revisited to meet the rapidly evolving technological landscape and the challenges to rights it poses. The project examines and critiques the existing regulatory regimes that apply to key actors such as states and corporations as well as making proposals to strengthen remedies for victims of human rights violations in this context. The focus is on understanding how human rights can adapt to the digital age, and developing practical solutions in this regard.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, the Project will be publishing a series of blogs to introduce our work and to explore some of the promises and perils facing the protection and promotion of human rights in the digital age. 

We will start later today with a post examining the promises of Big Data.

For more info on the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project see here.


Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the author(s) alone.