Human Rights in the Digital Age

Should you have human rights specific to the new digital age? The answer is a clear YES, according to Gerd Leonhard, the author of the new book titled “Technology vs. Humanity.” Indeed, Leonhard sets out five potential human rights in what he calls a Digital Ethics Manifesto. So, what are these proposed rights? 

5 Potential Human Rights

The first right is to “remain natural.” What does this mean? This is the right to be simply “biological and organic.” This translates into having the ability to work and function in society without the need to “deploy technology with, on or — most importantly — inside our bodies.”

The second right is to be inefficient “when and where it defines our basic humanness.” Here, Leonhard believes that we should have the choice to be “slower and less capable than technology.” Why? Because we should “never make efficiency more important than humanity.”

The third right is to be able to disconnect. This means that we should be allowed the choice to “switch off connectivity.” Further, we should be able to “go dark” on networks and to be allowed to pause communications, tracking, and monitoring.

The fourth right is to be able to remain anonymous. Thus, we should have “the option of not being identified and tracked” by technology. Leonhard believes that “anonymity, serendipity, and mistakes are crucial human attributes we should not seek to remove by technological means.” Leonhard’s point here seems to tie into the notion of the “right to be forgotten” that is gaining traction at least in Europe.

The fifth right is to engage with people instead of machines. Here, Leonhard believes that companies/employers should not be penalized if they decide to use real people instead of machines in certain contexts, even if that is less efficient and more expensive. In fact, he posits that companies that utilize humans over machines should receive tax credits for doing so.

It is important to look at the adverse impact on humanity stemming from the rise of machines in the digital age. Leonhard’s work is thought-provoking. But will the marketplace embrace his notion? The answer is probably not if the marketplace is left to its own devices – competition and efficiency/cost savings will drive decisions. However, if the human rights he asserts are embraced and supported by governments such that companies are not disadvantaged by employing humans over machines, there may be a chance. As of this writing, we are nowhere close to Leonhard’s ideal.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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