Human rights and activities of tech companies: Governments must act

Discrimination and violations of rights to equal treatment by the law – these are among the risks to human rights posed by the development and use of algorithmic systems by technology companies. In our submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) we argue that states have a duty to protect citizens from these risks.

AlgorithmWatch has answered a call for input from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to comment on the practical application of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to the activities of technology companies, as technology companies play a crucial role in the development, implementation, and use of automated decision-making (ADM) systems that affect fundamental rights. This contribution will help inform the High Commissioner report to be submitted to the 50th session of the Human Rights Council in June 2022.

In our written input, we argue that a comprehensive governance framework is needed to address the serious and numerous risks to human rights posed by non-transparent ADM systems. These human rights risks as defined under the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include discriminatory effects; violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association, or religion; violations of the rights to freedom of assembly and association; violations of the right to privacy; or the rights of individuals to equal treatment by the law.

The document raises key areas of concern in this regard — specifically relating to technology companies as private entities acting on behalf of public authorities, as well as in their role in the private sphere. Thus, it concerns both the state’s obligation to protect people from rights violations by third parties, as well as emerging direct human rights obligations to respect human rights of private actors, as discussed in the debate on Business and Human Rights.

AlgorithmWatch is looking forward to further contributing to the debate within the UN, given the importance of multilateral governance frameworks in this field.

Read more on our policy & advocacy work on ADM in the public sector.

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