Whether we realize it or not, our lives are intrinsically linked to a digital world that is growing at an unimaginable speed and that forces us to "accept cookies".

The digital tools such as platforms, social media and artificial intelligence systems have changed drastically, according to older generations, the way in which we communicated, consume the news and we interact with others. This has meant that, in the complex fabric of contemporary digital society, the protection of human rights is acquiring a crucial dimension.

Among these changes and new possibilities comes a new name for what we know as human rights, putting digital human rights in the spotlight of global and local discussions.

Where do we start the conversation of digital human rights?

We can say that some of these rights are an extension of the existing ones, even with limitations because they are designed in a context that does not reflect the needs of the global south, a discussion that was further expanded from the analysis of human rights from decolonial theories.

In this digitized and globalized world, there are rights to which to look with this surname, thinking about them can be a start and guide to address the challenges we face as humanity in the digital realm, and then think about them from a more local and even everyday look.

Although digital technologies offer new ways to promote and defend human rights, they are also used to restrict and transgress these same rights, which we have seen with the controversies of online platforms and the use they make with the sale of their users' data.

In July 2018, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General convened a High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation to move forward with proposals to strengthen cooperation in the digital space between governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, academic institutions, the technical community and other relevant stakeholders. However, the owners of the companies and platforms that today conglomerate users, along with their data, worldwide were not exactly invited.

In 2020, and with the context of the pandemic, the secretary general again called for action for human rights in the digital context, stressing that new technologies are often used for surveillance, repression, censorship and online harassment, especially against vulnerable people and human rights defenders - although when we talk about cyberbullying, no social place is estimated. And the fact is that, to date, existing human rights treaties had been established in an era before digitalization, which raised, and continues to raise, the need to adapt and update guides or regulations to address the current challenges posed by this new era.

And what are digital human rights?

From these calls, the UN Human Rights Council begins to typify these digital rights, inviting governments to take the discussions to more local levels and to expand the dimension of the dynamics of interaction, care, protection and the same political decision making on these issues. Some of these are:

  1. 1. Universal and Equal Access: All people should be able to access the Internet regardless of income, gender, location, or diverse capabilities.

  1. 2. Freedom of Expression, Information and Communication: Blocking websites, users or social networks violates freedom of expression and communication, as well as the right to free association. However, this same right is put in tension when it comes to respect for diversity.

  1. 3. Privacy and Data Protection: People should be informed to be able to control who stores their data and be able to delete it whenever they wish, in the face of threats such as personal data theft. But also, they should have more friendly access to this information, and not huge folders in small letters.

  1. 4. Right to Anonymity: Encryption of communications and anonymity are essential for secure transactions on the Internet and can be violated in countries that prohibit encryption. This also implies not wanting to appear on any platform with personal data and photos.

  1. 5. Right to be Forgotten: The right to have private information or information of any kind removed from Internet searches, platforms or media.

  1. 6. Protection of Minors: Children must be protected on the Internet, the content that is uploaded about them and ensure safe access without infringing their rights.

  1. 7. Intellectual Property: Authors should be recognized and remunerated for their work, balancing free access to public domain works.

What did we find out about cybersecurity?

Another crucial discussion when talking about digital human rights is cybersecurity. This is relevant when it comes to protecting the freedom to exercise digital rights, such as privacy through encryption of communications. In case of violations, legal action can be taken in countries with cyber rights legislation, however, these legal actions are not very common in Latin America.

In Europe, for example, there is the European Data Protection Committee (ECDC) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) that investigate and sanction infringements, with significant fines for the most serious ones. In the United States, there is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization that is emblematic in the defense of cyber-rights in this country.

Along the same lines, the United Nations defined the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These rights mechanisms argue that generalized Internet shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services violate international human rights law. In the case of Colombia, organizations such as Karisma Foundation appeal to strategies for the care of human rights in the digital world.

But beyond recommendations, organizations and committees that address these issues, it is essential to address the protection gaps that have the same platforms and social networks that mobilize these digital technologies in constant growth. Perhaps there are gaps that are not clear to these same companies, since they are relatively recent, their breadth, their constant change and the number of people with different intentions mobilizing in these same.

It is therefore critical to recognize the areas in which digital technologies can be used to violate and erode human rights, deepening inequalities and exacerbating existing discrimination, especially among vulnerable and marginalized groups. This includes addressing these digital human rights and issues such as the dissemination of disinformation and harmful content, without resorting to generalized biases about what the use of the Internet should be. But, above all, without falling into radical positions of displaying that big pandora's box with which we connect through screens.

What's next after recognizing digital human rights?

While digital technologies offer imaginable opportunities in how we access information, communicate and mediate our lives, they pose significant challenges that must be addressed urgently and collaboratively to ensure a safer and more informed digital environment.

It is important to delve deeper into how these same technologies that are sold from the possibility of access, also exacerbate a digital divide, inequalities and discrimination already existing in humanity itself, especially of people who are already in conditions of vulnerability and poor access.

In short, there is a pressing need to address and protect human rights in the digital realm. The rapid evolution of digital technologies has generated new challenges that directly affect our fundamental rights, such as privacy, freedom of expression and equal access to information, among others.

Therefore, to protect digital human rights, a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach involving governments, industry, civil society and international organizations is essential, but above all these companies and digital platforms that mediate interaction dynamics. And this involves not only law enforcement, but also the promotion of practices and pedagogies that ensure a safe, inclusive and informed digital environment on digital human rights.

Finally, the questions then remain: How can we ensure that the discussion on digital human rights encompasses the needs of the global south and not just reflects Western contexts? What measures are taken at the local level to protect users' privacy and security in the face of indiscriminate data selling and poor cybersecurity? How can governments, industry, civil society, international organizations and digital platform companies collaborate effectively to ensure a more inclusive digital environment, especially for unequal populations?