Research Project

Human Rights, Big Data and Technology

About us

Advancing Human Rights in the Age of Al and the Digital Society.

The digital age has brought about a global pattern shift in how we communicate, interact and organise our world. Everyday life generates colossal quantities of digital data that, once created, is scrutinsed by complex forms of analysis using algorithms, artificial intelligence and other digital tools. This in turn yields highly personalised insights about ourselves, our habits, desires and role in society.

Our project explores the challenges and opportunities that big data and artificial intelligence are bringing to human rights. We are researching whether fundamental human rights concepts and approaches need to be adapted to comply horizontally in the era of technological advancement and big data.

We plan to develop good practice guidelines, regulatory responses and solutions for the human rights sector to improve both enjoyment and protection in the digital age. Our key engagements fall mainly but not entirely into the categories: businesses, international human rights and humanitarian institutions and non-governmental human rights.

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What are the main questions we will answer?

The main questions we will answer are:

  1. What human rights concerns and opportunities are generated by digital technology including those using ‘big data’, artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision-making?
  2. Can the international human rights framework and institutions respond to deal with the challenges and opportunities presented?
  3. How do we effectively regulate the collection, storage, use, amalgamation, re-purposing and sharing of data by States and non-State actors?
  4. What remedies are needed and how can these be effectively developed and implemented?

The project

How long will the project run for? Beginning in October 2015, the project will run until September 2020. It is funded by a £5 million grant from the Economic and Social Research Council and £1 million from the University of Essex.

Our team

The project is housed within the Human Rights Centre, with multidisciplinary partners worldwide specialising in computer science, sociology, economy, law, philosophy, political science and sociology.

Meet our team

Past projects

Powerful Purchasers

This is a project that aims to identify the specific legal principles that highlight the special position of the purchaser able to influence the behaviour of suppliers.


EBHR has written a report on the potential liabilities of the parent company in the Shell Group, as well as that of its Nigerian subsidiary, for oil spills in the Niger Delta.

The report places emphasis on changes in Nigerian legal standards, as well as developments in the UK concerning parent company liability, both of which increase the prospects for successful litigation in jurisdictions outside Nigeria as well as domestically.

One of the report’s objectives is to provide Shell investors with the necessary information as well as samples of detailed questions that they could direct to their company in order to acquire more information on the Niger Delta situation. The Niger Delta Report was successfully published on 10 December 2012.


Australia - UK

Non-judicial remedies for human rights abuses by business

EBHR is part of a three-year research project analysing non-judicial dispute settlement mechanisms for human rights abuses by businesses, particularly those operating outside of their home countries.

The Project is being conducted in partnership with Melbourne and Monash Universities in Australia, the University of Newcastle, the UK’s Corporate Responsibility Coalition (CORE) and several leading NGOs including Oxfam Australia, ActionAid and the Federation of Homeworkers Worldwide. EBHR’s contribution will be integral to formulating a recommendation for a UK Commission on Business and Human Rights.

The team has constructed a database of the various forms of non-judicial redress mechanisms, as well as the regulatory mapping of UK business and human rights-related legislation, parliamentary and government bodies to serve as a basis for institutional design and operation.

EBHR is currently conducting background research into the impact of non-judicial remedies with a view to producing an academic research paper.


In collaboration with the Rio de Janeiro Prosecutor’s Office and the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, EBHR is providing the Prosecutor’s Office with legal analysis regarding the potential liabilities that certain foreign domiciled companies would incur as a result of the latter’s activities in the construction and operation of projects which have an impact on the local populations and environment in the Rio de Janeiro area.

In this collaboration, EBHR has also been involved in providing training to the Prosecutor’s Office and to the University Juiz de Fora in the field of business and human rights.


As an increasing number of mining companies are currently prospecting or doing business in Senegal, Amnesty International Netherlands has commissioned EBHR to produce a report on whether the internal legal framework is adequate to ensure human rights, social and environmental protection in light of international standards, in particular the ECOWAS Mining Directive.

The legal analysis considers a number of aspects including land rights, health and safety, right to water, environmental issues, gender, as well as the judicial and non-judicial remedies available to local communities affected by notably industrial mining activities. The initial desk-based research was followed by fieldwork investigation in Senegal.



EBHR was asked by Global Witness, UK to assess the qualities of the proposed Minerals Law of Afghanistan, drafted by the Ministry of Mines but rejected by Cabinet in July 2012.

The analysis, after critically reviewing the rejected draft, is focused on improved techniques for transparency, human rights protection and effective remedy that new legislation could embody.

The overall aim of the project is helping the government of Afghanistan draft a new bill that takes in due consideration, alongside mining companies’ and State’s interests, of the human and environmental rights of local populations.

The Global Witness report A Shaky Foundation? analysing Afghanistan's Draft Mining Law, which draws heavily on EHBR analysis was published in December 2013.

What does your digital footprint say about you?

Our project explores how your big data might impact your rights. Read our research case study to find out more about our project.

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Get in touch
Get in touch
Catherine Kent Human Rights Project Officer
Telephone: 01206 873879