Official Launch of the Project

Wednesday 2 March marked the official launch of the multi-disciplinary Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project, funded by a grant of nearly £5 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and match-funded with a further £1 million by the University of Essex.

The event was attended by more than 100 human rights defenders and students, representatives from NGOs, UN agencies and business, and project members.

Speaking at the launch, Ambassador Eileen Donahoe, former US Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council and Director of Global Affairs at Human Rights Watch, said: “I applaud the University of Essex for this project”, which will explore the positive and negative implications of ICT and big data on human rights.

In her keynote lecture, Ambassador Donahoe explained the challenges facing the human rights framework in an era where digitisation makes all our actions traceable and where the internet facilitates interaction and communication across geographical borders.

In their opening remarks, Phil Sooben, Deputy Chief Executive of the ESRC, said he was confident the project would have a “wide range of impact”, while the University of Essex’s Professor Heather Laurie, said it was the latest development in a “long and fruitful collaboration with the ESRC.”

Speaking after the event, Professor Lorna McGregor, Director of the Human Rights Centre, and Co-Director of the project, said: “The use of ICT is embedded in our everyday lives and is inextricably intertwined with human rights. ICT and the use of big data may offer unprecedented opportunities to secure the fulfilment of human rights, but equally, its misuse may interfere with the enjoyment and protection of human rights.

“The full extent of the human rights implications remains unknown. Essex is ideally-placed to ensure that this landmark project has significant, targeted impact as we have extensive links with key UN agencies, national human rights institutions, the international human rights community, NGOs, technology companies and the internet governance sector.”

See all the photos from the launch.