Reports  |    |  July 15, 2018

Human Rights and Technology Issues Paper (2018)

Report by the Australian Human Rights Commission. 64 pages.

Foreword from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner

This Issues Paper marks the formal launch of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s major project on human rights and technology (the Project).

New technology is changing us. It is changing how we relate; how we work; how we make decisions, big and small.

Facial recognition technology, Artificial Intelligence that predicts the future, neural network computing… these are no longer science fiction. These developments promise enormous economic and social benefits. But the scope and pace of change also pose profound challenges.

Technology should exist to serve humanity. Whether it does will depend on how it is deployed, by whom and to what end.

As new technology reshapes our world, we must seize the opportunities this presents to advance human rights by making Australia fairer and more inclusive. However, we must also be alive to, and guard against, the threat that new technology could worsen inequality and disadvantage.

In her 2017 Boyer lectures, Professor Genevieve Bell reflected on what it means to be human today. Too often we focus on single, technology-related issues – such as the increased use of facial-recognition technology – without reflecting on the broader context.

She said:

[W]hat we have not seen is a broader debate about what they point to collectively. This absence presents an opportunity and an obligation.1

Similarly, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, was the first to describe the rapid and pervasive growth in new technologies as a new industrial revolution. He said:

The world lacks a consistent, positive and common narrative that outlines the opportunities and challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, a narrative that is essential if we are to empower a diverse set of individuals and communities and avoid a popular backlash against the fundamental changes underway.2

This Project will explore the rapid rise of new technology and what it means for our human rights. The Project will:

  1. identify the practical issues at stake
  2. undertake research and public consultation on how best to respond to the human rights challenges and opportunities presented by new technology
  3. develop a practical and innovative roadmap for reform.

The matters at the heart of this Project are complex. While the Commission remains solely responsible for the content produced in this Project, including this Issues Paper, the only way we can develop effective solutions is by working collaboratively with a broad range of stakeholders.

The Commission is particularly grateful to be working with our major partners in this Project: Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Herbert Smith Freehills; LexisNexis; and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). In addition, the Commission appreciates the support of other significant partners, especially the Digital Transformation Agency, Data61 and the World Economic Forum. The Commission also acknowledges the generosity of the members of the Project’s Expert Reference Group, who provide strategic guidance and technical expertise.

This Issues Paper aims to assist all parts of the Australian community to engage with this Project. As Human Rights Commissioner, I warmly encourage you to participate in this consultation process.

Edward Santow
Human Rights Commissioner
July 2018


Table of Contents

  • Foreword from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner
  • Major project partners and Expert Reference Group
  • Introduction
  • Background
    • The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Project
    • Other government and parliamentary processes
  • Human rights and technology
    • What are human rights?
    • What are governments’ obligations to protect human rights?
    • How are human rights protected in Australia?
    • Which human rights are affected by new technologies?
      • The right to privacy
      • Security, safety and the right to life
      • The right to non-discrimination and equal treatment
    • A human rights approach
  • Threats and opportunities arising from new technology
    • The convergence of human rights and new technologies
    • The impact of technology on specific population groups
  • Reinventing regulation and oversight for new technologies
    • The role of legislation
    • Other regulatory approaches
  • Artificial Intelligence, big data and decisions that affect human rights
    • Understanding the core concepts
      • Artificial Intelligence
      • Machine learning, algorithms and big data
      • AI-informed decision making
    • AI-informed decision making and human rights
      • Human dignity and human life
      • Fairness and non-discrimination
      • Data, privacy and personal autonomy
      • Related issues
    • How should Australia protect human rights in this context?
      • What is the role of ordinary legislation?
      • How are other jurisdictions approaching this challenge?
      • Self-regulation, co-regulation and regulation by design
      • The role of public and private institutions
  • Accessible technology
    • How people with disability experience technology
    • Current framework governing equal access to new technologies for people with disability
      • International human rights law
      • Australian law
      • Government policy and coordination
      • Guidelines and standards
    • Models of accessible and inclusive technology
      • Regulatory and compliance frameworks
      • Accessible design and development of new technology
  • Consultation questions
  • Making a submission
  • Glossary
  • Appendix: Government innovation and data initiatives