What is the role for technology in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Technology cannot be a short-cut to the complex and well-resourced multilateral and multi-stakeholder approaches and global cooperation that are needed to deal with the pandemic itself and what the UN Secretary General has called, ‘an economic crisis. A social crisis. And a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis’.

However, technology can play a critical role in tracking the spread of COVID-19, developing treatments and vaccines and access to healthcare through e-health tools to avoid unnecessary exposure. AI enabled data analytics can assist in the prioritisation in the use and allocation of health care resources as well as targeting resource allocation to those who need access to essential goods and services the most. It has also been critical to continuing public services and institutions and sustaining communities online.

However, the digital divide means that not all can benefit from technology in this way, increasing isolation and inequality. There are also risks that states use technology to increase state surveillance and censorship. The internet and social media platforms are also already being used to spread misinformation about COVID-19 and to spread hate speech and incite hate crimes against groups being scapegoated for the virus.


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Our research

At HRBDT, we are using our research to show how technologies can be used to advance human rights, like the right to the health and life, and to ensure that all uses of technologies protect human rights. Our key areas of work include:

  • key principles to ensure that no-one is left behind – overcoming the digital divide
  • the compliance of contact-tracing apps with states’ human rights obligations
  • applying our work on algorithmic accountability to the use of AI in access to healthcare during COVID-19
  • dealing with misinformation and hate speech during COVID-19



Our research areas