Coding Human Rights Law: Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2017 Workshop Report

8 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2018

See all articles by Corinne Cath

Corinne Cath

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Ben Zevenbergen

Princeton University

Christiaan van Veen

New York University School of Law

Date Written: 2017


The Internet simultaneously facilitates the exercise and fulfilment of human rights, as well as being conducive to human rights violations. Technical organizations and individual Internet companies, in particular, grapple with their responsibility to respect human rights. There is a clear demand for a better understanding of how digital technology can support the exercise of human rights, but little knowledge on how to do so.

For these reasons, we organized a workshop at the 2017 Citizen Lab Summer Institute (CSLI) in Toronto, entitled: 'Coding Human Rights Law'. The objective of the workshop was four-fold:

1. Explore the relationship between Internet technology (in the broadest sense) and human rights; 2. Understand how such technologies can support the exercise of human rights; 3. Identify bottlenecks when integrating human rights considerations into Internet technology; 4. List recommendations to provide guidance to the various stakeholders working on human-rights strengthening technology.

This paper provides an overview of the workshop discussion. The workshop was focused on providing a "deep dive" for academics, technologists, human rights experts, lawyers, government officials, and NGO employees, to gather their experiences and distil best-practices. We identified multiple concerns, of which three major ones will be covered in this report.

We first address the applicability of current international human rights frameworks to debates about Internet technology. We then focus on issues surrounding the integration of human rights considerations into the design and operationalization of Internet technology. Finally, we briefly deal with political considerations surrounding the debate on integrating human rights into Internet technology. We also identified a number of considerations that should be the topic of further debate and reflection.

Keywords: Human Rights, Internet, Internet Design, Code, Ethics, Citizen Lab Summer School

Suggested Citation

Cath, Corinne and Zevenbergen, Ben and van Veen, Christiaan, Coding Human Rights Law: Citizen Lab Summer Institute 2017 Workshop Report (2017). Available at SSRN: or

Corinne Cath (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

Ben Zevenbergen

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

Christiaan Van Veen

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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