Bridging Governance Gaps in the Age of Technology: A Discussion on the State Duty to Protect

11 MARCH 2021

States and other stakeholders have increasingly recognized the need to adopt more effective regulatory and policy responses to the growing risks posed by digital technologies. A variety of States are currently considering regulatory and policy measures to better frame the development and uses of technologies such as artificial intelligence at the national and multilateral level.

An online expert consultation co-organized by the Geneva Academy and the United Nations (UN) Human Rights’ B-Tech Project – which aims to advance the implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights (UNGPs) in the technology space – discussed regulatory and policy responses to human rights challenges linked to digital technologies.

The UNGPs and the Governance of New Technologies

The UNGPs provide a framework for States to address the governance of new technologies and their impact on human rights. The 30 experts – from government, national human rights institution, business, academia, civil society and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – discussed the key features of the UNGPS’ State duty to protect pillar and provided comments on a draft foundational paper for B-Tech Project Focus Area 4 that set the frame for the consultation.

The consultation covered all aspects of this pillar, including:

  • States implementing a ‘smart mix of policy and regulatory measures, both nationally and where relevant, via international approaches.
  • Potential opportunities created by trends towards mandatory human rights due diligence, which would apply to a large number of technology companies.
  • Situations where States contract with, partner with, license from or support technology companies (‘State-Business Nexus’).
  • How to increase State capacity and internal policy coherence to address the complexity, scale and fast-evolving nature of the technology industry.

The soon-to-be-published foundational paper serves as a conversation starter on the State duty to protect human rights in the technology space, and policy and legislative incentives to require business to respect human rights.

Passenger scrolling on a phone

Placing Human Rights at the Centre of Policy and Regulation

 ‘Human rights and international human rights law must be at the centre of regulatory frameworks developed to accompany the development of digital technologies. We will continue to collaborate with OHCHR and its B-Tech Project to conduct much-needed research to identify ways of placing international human rights law at the centre of policy and regulation’ explains Dr Ana Beduschi, Associate Research Fellow at the Geneva Academy.

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