Human rights in the New Digital World

We appear to be on the verge of yet another technological revolution. Over the last two centuries, the inventions of the steam engine, electricity, and, more recently, the computer have resulted in the transformation of society. And, just like that, the next so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0  [1], will bring even more changes to our world. Most likely there will be no flying cars or time travel, as depicted in science fiction films, but we can certainly expect more substantive and interesting changes. These changes may not have a large impact on the appearance of our apartments and cities, but they will have a significant impact on how we raise our children, build our careers, earn money, and participate in political life.

The expansion of broadband and satellite Internet, the use of machine learning, big data analytics, Internet of Things, e-commerce – these areas have been determining business development directions around the world for quite some time. Only two of the world’s top ten most expensive companies are not directly related to technology. The technology and telecommunications sectors account for more than 40% of the top one hundred most successful technology companies. While the economy easily adapts to the trends and dynamics of technological development, the social aspect of our lives, which is equally important, cannot always fully respond to the challenges of the digital age. How can we maintain privacy in the digital age? Is it possible to avoid sharing your personal data and information when using services and apps? How do we ensure that different kind of actors do not constantly monitor us in order to assess our loyalty, and they do not exploit our biometric data? Surprisingly, we voluntarily give away the majority of this information to different actors without even realizing it.


The issue of digital behavior standards, frameworks, and norms appears to be rather hazy. There is no international human rights convention on the Internet or digital rights, nor are there UN standards for the creation and use of robots for example. However, what is universal on this issue, in most countries around the world today, goes back nearly 70 years ago:

Following World War II, humanity’s response to massacres and genocide was the establishment of the United Nations as a forum for peaceful and equal dialogue, as well as the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a general and universally recognized catalog of basic human rights and the state’s corresponding responsibilities to its citizens. was the first Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights[2], and she was instrumental in developing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the late 1940s. And, while it is unlikely that she and her colleagues ever considered automatic processing of personal data and face recognition, the text of the Declaration still contains the standards that have become the foundation for modern understandings of privacy and protection against intrusion. Similarly, the right to receive and freely disseminate information, freedom of speech, the right to form communities of interest, the right to participate in their country’s government, and many other rights enshrined in the Declaration form the framework of ethical guidelines and norms that we now use in the modern technological world.    
Paraphrasing Churchill’s [3], one can admit that the concept of human rights cannot always give a direct answer to which ethical framework should be adopted in controversial situations arising in the digital world. To address specific challenges, such as bioethics, digital surveillance, or online privacy, one should refer to the concept of human rights and look for solutions in documents and conventions based on the values of humanism, equality, and freedom.    

The BorderUAS project’s large team is working on various components and sensors of the beyond state-of-the-art technologies including the unmanned aerial vehicle itself. However, it is critical that human rights and ethical issues will come to the front, as we work toward the common goal of using unmanned technologies to ensure security and the rule of law at EU borders. The main documents that define the framework for work in this area are the and the EU’s Horizon 2020 program’s ethical research principles. As such during the lifecycle of this project the consortium has set as a high priority to comply with all relevant frameworks and regulations regarding ethics and privacy protection. The ultimate goal, after all, is through research to provide means and ways for efficient surveillance of EU external borders, respecting human rights, offering a safer life to every individual.