What does your digital footprint say about you? We’re exploring how your big data might impact your rights.
Global perspectives and challenges
Technology, data and innovation
Professor Lorna McGregor
Digital technology and the big data it generates about every aspect of our lives offers unique opportunities, but the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations revealed it also comes with great risks.
How can our big data be stored and accessed and by who? What are the implications for our privacy, security and democracy, and how can big data be used to identify human rights abuses, develop policies and to target humanitarian aid?
These are some of the questions being asked by Essex academics involved in a major study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the University.
"The goal of this project is to make sure the technology has more net benefits for human rights work rather than for repressive governments."
Every detail of our lives today is held somewhere digitally, giving corporations and states the power to access information about our political affiliations, sexual orientation, shopping and travel habits, even health status. It can be used to make our lives easier and to target human rights responses, but it can also be used to discriminate, stifle protest and undermine our rights.
Launched in 2016, our Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project brings together almost 30 Essex researchers, working with colleagues at the University of Cambridge, exploring how human rights can be secured in this digital age.
They are investigating issues including predictive policing, consent, surveillance and counter-terrorism, the use of algorithms to determine access to healthcare and insurance premiums, and how our social media activity can be used to spot and respond to human rights abuses.
Our multi-disciplinary Human Rights Centre is uniquely placed to direct the study. Lawyers, sociologists, computer scientists, economists, criminologists, human rights practitioners and data experts are just some of the researchers working together on this project.
The Centre’s links to key UN agencies, national and international human rights organisations, NGOs, and technology companies will be crucial to realising significant impact.
Essex’s expertise in the fields of big data and human rights has led to other significant initiatives: