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Human rights and new technologies – a call for dialogue

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually across the world on 10 December every year to commemorate the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This seems an appropriate time to reflect on where we are from a business and human rights perspective, and how we as a company work to navigate with real integrity the complexities of topics such as freedom of expression, privacy, transparency, and security in an ever increasingly digital world.

Communications networks can play a significant role in enabling free expression, access to opportunities and ideas as well as social, environmental and economic benefits. As a provider of communications networks, Nokia has a responsibility to ensure this technology is not used to limit or infringe on human rights.

The last few years have seen an unprecedented number of terrorist attacks in the world. This alone has increased the spotlight on security on the one-hand, and increased calls for greater public safety on the other. In parallel, terrorism exemplifies the growing challenge of balancing the privacy rights of the individual with an increased need for security for both citizens and societies.

In this evolving global context, paired with the rapidly developing technological advancements in the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), getting that balance right has never been more pressing or more complex, for any of us.

It sometimes feels there’s a misconception that IoT and AI, the whole 4th industrial revolution are things that will only become reality sometime in the future, or are just futuristic visions of the techy nerds. The main dialogue around human rights, including freedom of expression and right to privacy is still very much focused on the status quo – around the technologies and challenges we know and understand. But here’s a little secret; IoT and AI are no longer futuristic visions, they are happening right now. Today. In fact, IoT connected devices are expected to top 46 billion by 2020 and will enable many billions of people, devices, and sensors to connect in a way that opens up a world of possibilities. These possibilities include making our planet safer, cleaner, healthier, more sustainable, more efficient and more productive.

When you don’t know all the answers – or even all the questions yet

This is why we must start moving the conversation around human rights to also encompass these new technologies. What are the potential challenges with IoT, when more and more personal devices are connected to public systems? What about the increased amount of data moving around in these systems, who owns that data? Who will have access to it? What are the mechanisms for ensuring lawful access to private citizen’s data, if the data is already used and managed by public systems? What is the role of transparency from governments in reporting on their use of private citizen’s data in incidents where this data is used for other than its’ original intent? How do we continue to balance the need for security and the right to privacy in this context?

These are just some examples of the questions ahead. The fact remains that we don’t even know all the questions we are facing yet. We should all remain humble in that recognition, while also driving a shared determination to ensure human rights are applied in the digital space for tomorrow. It is our firm belief that the best answers will be generated from open and informed societal debate, combined with an international multi-stakeholder dialogue. Nokia invites everyone to contribute – the time is now.

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks or @nokia using #standup4humanrights #BizHumanRights #Sustainability  #humanrightsday

Laura Okkonen

About Laura Okkonen

Laura leads Human Rights at Nokia Corporate Affairs like she leads her life, by “being the change you wish to see in the world.” You can ask her about policy advocacy and stakeholder engagement in issues related to human rights including the avoidance of modern slavery, human rights due diligence, prevention of technology misuse, freedom of expression, right to privacy.

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