Students Staff

04 March 2016

London launch of landmark human rights and big data project

Ambassador Eileen Donahoe of Human Rights Watch has praised the University of Essex for tackling one of the greatest global human rights challenges of the digital age.

Speaking at the launch of the Human Rights and Big Data Technology Project in London, Ambassador Donahoe said: “I applaud the University of Essex for this project” which will explore the positive and negative implications of ICT and big data on human rights.

  • See all the photos from the launch.
  • Watch our video interview with Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, Samantha McGregor from the ESRC, and Essex student Rafael Heredia.

In her keynote lecture, Ambassador Donahoe, former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council, explained the challenges facing the human rights movement in an era where digitisation makes all our actions traceable and where the internet facilitates interaction and communication across geographical borders.

Ambassador Donahoe was speaking at the launch of Essex’s multi-disciplinary project, funded by a grant of nearly £5 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and match-funded with a further £1 million by the University.

In their opening remarks, Phil Sooben, Deputy Chief Executive of the ESRC, said he was confident the project would have a “wide range of impact”, while Essex’s Professor Heather Laurie, said it was the latest development in a “long and fruitful collaboration with the ESRC.”

Speaking after the event, Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of the Human Rights Centre, and co-principal investigator of the project, said: “The use of ICT is embedded in our everyday lives and is inextricably intertwined with human rights. ICT and the use of big data may offer unprecedented opportunities to secure the fulfilment of human rights, but equally, its misuse may interfere with the enjoyment and protection of human rights.

“The full extent of the human rights implications remains unknown. Essex is ideally-placed to ensure that this landmark project has significant, targeted impact as we have extensive links with key UN agencies, national human rights institutions, the international human rights community, NGOs, technology companies and the internet governance sector.”

The event was attended by more than 100 human rights defenders and students, representatives from NGOs, UN agencies and business, and project members.

Ambassador Eileen Donahoe is Director of Global Affairs at Human Rights Watch, and represents the organisation worldwide on human rights foreign policy, with special emphasis on digital rights, cybersecurity and internet governance. From 2010-13 she served as the first US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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