Technology has been extraordinarily effective in reducing distances between people and places, but it has created an increasing distance between the present and the future. The rates of new product introduction and adoption are speeding up. It took forty-six years for electricity to reach 25 percent of the US population. The same milestone took thirty-five years for the telephone and only seven for the Internet. For most of us, it is increasingly difficult to understand or anticipate long-term technological trends. It is common, especially in the context of human rights practice, that such inability stokes fears of a dystopian future in which ordinary people, especially those already marginalized or disenfranchised, become subjugated by technology rather than benefiting from it. This chapter of New Technologies for Human Rights Law and Practice is both an attempt to help practitioners cope with new technologies and a proposal to incorporate solidarity as the driving force for technology transfer.

It has become cliché to say that technology and its impact on society advance at a rapid pace. It is also commonplace to say that societies and legal frameworks have a hard time adapting to technology’s pace and the behavioral changes it demands. But adaptation is a valuable goal, because there is no livable future without it. The human rights movement has taken note and, both systematically and spontaneously, looked for ways to adapt to the transformative era of the information society. Today, human rights campaigns rely heavily on social media and e-mail. The presentation of research results in courts, political offices, and public spaces commonly incorporates data visualization. Fact-finding practices often include the use of remote sensing and open source intelligence. Further, human rights research increasingly relies on computational analysis. Encrypted communications, and the tools and services that provide them, are now considered fundamental to the safety of human rights practitioners and their partners in the community. These are signs that, as the contributors to this volume remind us, the future of human rights will be intertwined with the advancement of technology.

This introductory chapter as well as the full book from which it is has been excerpted can be viewed on the Cambridge University Press website.


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