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In Brief: News from RightsCon Online

Bringing you highlights from key events in the identity calendar

Amidst a new era of meeting and working at a distance, this year's RightsCon was entirely virtual.

The world’s biggest event in tech and human rights, RightsCon attracts participants and speakers from all over the world. And in 2020, involvement was more diverse than ever. Thanks largely to the digital platform, 158 different countries were able to take part in the event this year - 36 more than in 2019.

Good ID was amongst the 8,000 participants. Throughout the week, we attended sessions and live-tweeted coverage from the event - and now, you can view some of the top highlights from each of the five days below.


Monday: Welcome to RightsCon

The RightsCon opening ceremony, conveyed by Brett Solomon of Access Now, introduced some of the core issues at the intersection between technology and human rights. Panelists - including Tendayi Achiume, UN Special Rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance, discussed the dual nature of digital tech, as both an enabler of democracy and as a tool for suppression.

Later in the day, panelists - including Kaliya Young of Identity Woman, and Alexandre Barbarosa of ITS Rio - debated issues around digital identity, data protection, human rights, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Topics covered included the tensions between privacy and technological innovation, the problems of tech-solutionism, and the importance of a human rights centered approach to digital identity.

Tuesday: Surveillance and the Future of Democracy

Day 2 of RightsCon began with a panel on mass surveillance in China and beyond - exploring issues such as the social credit system and the global influence of state-linked tech corporations.

This was followed by a ‘Fireside Chat’ between Audrey Tan, Digital Minister of Taiwan, Nanjala Nyabola, a political analyst and author, and Amy Studdart of the International Republican Institute. The group discussed their visions for the future of democracy, unpicking the role that digital technologies could play in the years to come.

In a later session - 'Real corporate accountability for surveillance capitalism' - panelists discussed an increasingly problematic phenomenon: the mass collection and monetization of personal data.

Hosted by Nathalie Marechal of Ranking Digital Rights, the session included perspectives from Joe Westby from Amnesty International, Chris Gilliard from Macomb Community College, and Shoshana Zuboff, scholar and author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.

In particular, Zuboff’s work - defining and unpicking the issues around surveillance capitalism - has helped us to better understand the troubling trend that is increasingly central to our individual and collective digital experience.

However, Zuboff described herself as optimistic about the future, noting that activism and resistance around surveillance capitalism is on the rise. “Democracy is slow because it's human,” she said, “but ultimately, democracy is what will turn this around."

Wednesday: Solutions to the Data Problem

On Wednesday, sessions at RightsCon further explored the issue of personal data and how best to protect digital rights in an era of increased data capture. At one thought-provoking panel, experts debated whether we would continue to be exploited by mammoth corporations, if we were able to own and sell our personal data.

Martin Tisné from Luminate, made the point that our data should be protected by the government in the same way we are able to trust our tap water is safe to drink - we shouldn’t have to take responsibility for it ourselves.

But in full support of data ownership and monetization, Brittany Kaiser, a data rights activist formerly of Cambridge Analytica, said we should think about our data like we do our other assets. If we can rent our home on AirBnB, she argued, why shouldn’t we be able to sell our data for extra cash?

In contrast, Elizabeth Renieris from the Berkman Klein Center and hackylawyER consultancy, argued that it’s impossible to assess the value of data in relation to our dignity. Renieris contended that, like human organs or endangered species, there are some things that simply shouldn't be put on the market.

Thursday: Exclusion and Challenges to Digital ID

In a session entitled: 'The dark side of digital ID: exclusion and the human rights of the poor,' legal activists from Jamaica, Kenya, and India discussed what they had learned from the court battles against national ID systems in their countries, highlighting the constitutional and human rights issues that have been brought to the surface.

Yussuf Bashir of Bashir and Noor Advocates addressed parallels between India’s Aadhaar legislation and Kenya's National Integrated Identity Management System - particularly the ways in which the program led to the profiling of marginalized communities, such as the Nubians in Kenya.

Meanwhile, Fatuma Abdulrahman from the Nubian Rights Forum stressed how important it was to empower the Nubian community in the legal process, and Anand Venkatanarayanan of HasGeek, spoke about his experience as a witness in the Huduma Numba case.

Rodje Malcolm from Jamaicans for Justice provided an update on where things stand in Jamaica following a judgment in April 2019 that ruled the country’s ID program unconstitutional. He explained how important public participation is in the court process, and how the judgment of courts will have lasting influence - particularly if the Jamaican government tries to enforce other COVID-related measures which are unconstitutional.

Friday: Digital Health and the COVID Response

The final day of RightsCon touched on highly pertinent issues around digital technology and public health. This included a session on digital health certificates and the risks of introducing technologies in the midst of a pandemic without the requisite oversight.

Noting that "Impermanent solutions can create permanent problems,” Naman Aggarwal of AccessNow and Elizabeth Renieris discussed the difficulty of removing interventions when they're no longer needed, highlighting the importance of oversight & long-term plans around COVID tech solutions.

Introducing the notion of three core principles, Renieris contended that proposed tech solutions to the COVID crisis should meet the tests of being legal, necessary, and proportionate.


Hungry for more? Check out the RightsCon website.

And if you know of an unmissable identity event, activity, or story taking place in 2020, get in touch with the Good ID team.