Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age: Can international law provide the necessary framework?

The Society's 114th Annual Meeting—and first Virtual Annual Meeting—took place June 25–26, 2020. The 2020 Annual Meeting theme, "The Promise of International Law," was an opportunity to reflect on the successes and failures of international law, while reaffirming our commitment to achieving its promise of a more just and peaceful world.

All sessions in this track sponsored by Dechert LLP

Digital platforms have fundamentally changed the flow of information on a global scale. The effects of the digital age on human beings are widespread, from empowering individuals and advancing society on the one hand, to emboldening the spread of disinformation and enabling the spread of hate-based radicalization. There are many initiatives on the part of the private sector, States and civil society to address the increased abuse of digital platforms, but these initiatives are largely developing as a patchwork of domestic regulation. What is still lacking is a comprehensive normative framework that addresses fundamental human rights and still enables platforms to operate cross-jurisdictionally. International human rights law can serve as the cornerstone for such a global framework. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights entail that human rights law applies to digital platforms, wherever they are based or operating. In turn, key elements of human rights law can serve as guiding principles for both governments and digital platforms to institute regulations or policies governing online dissemination of information. Consideration must be given to the freedom of expression as well as the rights to freedom of thought and opinion and the right to privacy, but that must be weighed alongside the need for individual and public safety and security. The panel will be a robust discussion on how human rights law can inform a framework for protecting individuals in the digital age, including how to strike the right balance among fundamental human rights that at times may be in tension.

Susan Benesch, Harvard University (Moderator)
Cindy Cohn, Electronic Frontier Foundation
David Kaye, University of California-Irvine School of Law
Juan Carlos Lara, Derechos Digitales
Emma Llansó, Center for Democracy & Technology

(Speaker organizations are shown as of June 2020)