Summary publication

> View the website for the consultation process. 



Foreword from the Australian Human Rights Commissioner

This Issues Paper marks the formal launch of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s major project on human rights and technology (the Project).

New technology is changing us. It is changing how we relate; how we work; how we make decisions, big and small.

Facial recognition technology, Artificial Intelligence that predicts the future, neural network computing… these are no longer science fiction. These developments promise enormous economic and social benefits. But the scope and pace of change also pose profound challenges.

Technology should exist to serve humanity. Whether it does will depend on how it is deployed, by whom and to what end.

As new technology reshapes our world, we must seize the opportunities this presents to advance human rights by making Australia fairer and more inclusive. However, we must also be alive to, and guard against, the threat that new technology could worsen inequality and disadvantage.

In her 2017 Boyer lectures, Professor Genevieve Bell reflected on what it means to be human today. Too often we focus on single, technology-related issues – such as the increased use of facial-recognition technology – without reflecting on the broader context.

She said:

[W]hat we have not seen is a broader debate about what they point to collectively. This absence presents an opportunity and an obligation.1

Similarly, the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Professor Klaus Schwab, was the first to describe the rapid and pervasive growth in new technologies as a new industrial revolution. He said:

The world lacks a consistent, positive and common narrative that outlines the opportunities and challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, a narrative that is essential if we are to empower a diverse set of individuals and communities and avoid a popular backlash against the fundamental changes underway.2

This Project will explore the rapid rise of new technology and what it means for our human rights. The Project will:

1. identify the practical issues at stake

2. undertake research and public consultation on how best to respond to the human rights challenges and opportunities presented by new technology

3. develop a practical and innovative roadmap for reform.

The matters at the heart of this Project are complex. While the Commission remains solely responsible for the content produced in this Project, including this Issues Paper, the only way we can develop effective solutions is by working collaboratively with a broad range of stakeholders.

The Commission is particularly grateful to be working with our major partners in this Project: Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Herbert Smith Freehills; LexisNexis; and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). In addition, the Commission appreciates the support of other significant partners, especially the Digital Transformation Agency, Data61 and the World Economic Forum. The Commission also acknowledges the generosity of the members of the Project’s Expert Reference Group, who provide strategic guidance and technical expertise.

This Issues Paper aims to assist all parts of the Australian community to engage with this Project. As Human Rights Commissioner, I warmly encourage you to participate in this consultation process.

Edward Santow
Human Rights Commissioner

July 2018