Digital Security and Human Rights (I)
“How does digital security relate to human rights?” is being asked to the students of Amnesty International training called “Digital Security and Human Rights”. Have you ever thought of the information of yourself kept while using the phone, sending an email or posting on Social Media? This information, that you can feel is insignificant, is making an accurate picture of who are you: beliefs, identities, places where you live, location, associations or movements that you join, likes or dislikes.
Nowadays we live in an over-connected world, the named digital era. It is important to know who can use our information and for what. There are some specific online risks that everybody needs to take into account. Digital security is important to everybody regarding personal and collective Human Rights, such as the right to privacy or the freedom of expression.
Human Rights: some definitions
According to the United Nations, Human Rights are fundamental rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Thus, the United Nations definition highlights that human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. All these rights are equally important and don’t follow any hieratical order.
There are some documents that are legally mandatory for the states, having as the breakthrough archive The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where Human Rights are written and most of the states have signed and ratified. As well as the Declaration, there are other instruments such as International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, or regional documents like the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. In this reports is possible to see that Human Rights are concerning all aspects of people’s lives and have to be covered offline and online.
Digital security and Human rights
Digital security is affecting all of us. At the present time, the Internet is contributing to the improvement of communication and information access, providing a huge range of new ways to deal with it. Currently, people are immensely connected, more than ever before. However, while the use of the Internet is growing, consequently, the control –imposed by governments, specific institutions or businesses, among other options such as so-called security companies- of the population through electronic technologies also increases. There is more information about activists, social movements or associations.
To exemplify the previous paragraph, there is an article published by Amnesty International entitled “Russia: Move to block Telegram the latest blow in a government assault on freedom of expression online”. The piece explains how Russia’s media wanted to block off Telegram, the messaging app, after their rejection to share users information with the government.
Whereas digital security is concerning to the idea of protecting people’s ability to do so, sometimes it is possible to find common misinterpretations. For instance, some people consent Internet restrictions believing that they are to be better protected by the government. Defending online privacy doesn’t mean that there is a suspicious behaviour behind. Usually what a government considers dangerous can change by the time the authority changes –and maybe things that we have posted become then alarming for the new regime and protection becomes vital. In a nutshell, digital security is a collective human concern and the practice on it can contribute to protecting others and ourselves from human rights violations.
The knowledge of human rights, itself, can be seen as a social change tool. In this way, is also crucial to take action, be constructively critic and stand up. Inside the digital world, it is seen how new technologies are being used to monitor, harass and silence critical voices –here is where Human rights claim takes importance.
How to know personal risks?
Amnesty International, in the course mentioned in the introductory paragraph, is asking the students about digital security risks and how to prevent it. There is a questionnaire divided between digital tools (e.g. software applications), digital communications (e.g. encryption while using sensitive data such as bank accounts), digital spaces (e.g. social media platforms), digital habits (e.g. like changing passwords every three months) and digital prudence (e.g. being aware of hackers or cyber-attacks) –seen in figure 4.
For instance, ask yourself: do I keep up to date on the latest digital security trends and threats? Which are my sources to download apps or any kind of program (e.g. Photoshop or Illustrator), am I downloading apps from official websites? Or, do I know how to react in front of a malware affecting my accounts or in posterior moments of being a phishing attack victim (do I know what malware or phishing means?).
It is important to be aware of personal risks that can be faced online, besides having a general picture. There are security tactics and measures easily to achieve –and then, be an example and spread the word on it. Furthermore, there is the possibility to look for legal environments, for personal and collective protection, such as laws around encryption. For instance, there is Global Partners Digital that works “to build a digital environment based on human rights and democratic values”.
Some words to conclude: “Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning; it is an end”. Elie Wiesel (1999)
As it is possible to see along with this article, the Internet Era has opened massive possibilities to society for being organized; thus, information and ideas accessibility has also increased. However, as Global Partners Digital says –regarding the explanation of who they are, “It has also facilitated new forms of repression and violation of human rights, and intensified existing inequalities”.
For that reason, it is urgent to make people be aware of the risks that the digital Era has in reference to human rights and democracy. Any digital environment has two sides of the same point. Not only doing good use is important but also advocating for the respect and claim of human rights online –and offline- can help. Building a society where values such as respect, freedom of expression and the right to privacy are relevant for everybody’s dignity.
To read more:
“Russia: Move to block Telegram the latest blow in a government assault on freedom of expression online”.
This article is written after taking the online course Digital Security and Human Rights, from
Grant, S. & Mathur, A. (2017, September 15). 6 human rights Speeches That Changed The World. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from