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About the Event

With the advent of the internet came predictions of a new “global village”, where electronic communications would shape the world into a peaceful community of interconnected neighbors.  This vision of a brighter future soured when Facebook and other social media platforms and websites were blamed for the spread of disinformation in places like Myanmar, Syria, and Ethiopia, resulting in violence and human rights abuses. Authoritarian regimes used internet censorship to isolate their populations and reinforce propaganda. New technology seems to be on the cutting edge of isolating and polarizing the world like never before.

Technology can also provide the resources to counter disinformation and to strengthen civil society organizations. More recently, the world has seen how technology can be developed into a tool to protect human rights. The World Affairs Council participated in Philly Tech Week 2022 to discuss how innovative new practices can counter these the darker trends of the internet and use technology as a force for good.

The conversation was facilitated by Andrea Cayley, Co-Founder, Executive Vice President, and Director of Human Rights and Rule of Law at EOS Tech Trust. She introduced the idea of technology as a double-edged sword. On one edge sits the examples of technology being used for good, such as the rapid distribution of images that mobilized public opposition to atrocities like the Rwandan genocide. On the other edge are examples of how technology can be corrupted and used with ill-intent, such as the facial recognition software that which acts as an essential tool for the Chinese state to track minorities and dissidents.

Dr. Jay D. Aronson elaborated that modern information technology was created by governments and large corporations, resulting in a power imbalance in the technology’s very design. He also illustrated how the Center for Human Rights Science used videos and 3D reconstruction technology to illustrate the killing of protesters in the 2014 Ukrainian Euromaidan protests to serve as evidence in human rights litigation.

Laura Bingham described the new problem of “diffused responsibility” produced by surveillance technology such as the Pegasus spyware program, where multiple governments and corporations take part in the violation of privacy rights. She highlighted ongoing legislation to prevent the unnecessary overcollection of data, a policy for which she argued based upon avoidable tragedies such as the Taliban’s use of leftover US biometric data in Kabul to find and murder former bureaucrats.

The discussion highlighted the harmful ways that technology is currently used but also described a path forward, where engaged citizens and activists can regulate the more responsible use of technology and leverage the information technology provides to hold governments accountable.

About the Speakers

  • Jay D. Aronson, Ph.D., Professor of Science, Technology, and Society and Director of the Human Rights Science Center, Carnegie Mellon
  • Lauren Bingham, J.D., M.A, Executive Director, Institute for Law, Innovation, and Technology, Temple University


Part of Philly Tech Week 2022