IGF 2023 WS #231 Realizing the right to social security in a digital world


Human Rights & Freedoms
Digital Technologies and Rights to Health
Non-discrimination in the Digital Space

Organizer 1: Francesca Feruglio, ESCR-Net
Organizer 2: Richmond Bishop Imogen , Amnesty International

Speaker 1: Kiira Brian, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 2: Bonareri Onyancha Damaris, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Curcic Danilo, Civil Society, Eastern European Group
Speaker 4: de Brigard Juan, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 5: Richmond Bishop Imogen , Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Francesca Feruglio, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

Francesca Feruglio, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Richmond Bishop Imogen , Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

a) How does digitization and the introduction of automation impact on the right social security, equality and data protection?
b) How have courts and quasi-judicial bodies tackled human rights issues arising from the introduction of digital systems?
c) What considerations do policy-makers need to take into account when introducing automated systems for the delivery of public services?
d) How could they strike a better balance between increasing efficiency of public systems and meeting the needs of most marginalized groups and individuals?

What will participants gain from attending this session? Participants will gain a better understanding of the challenges brought about by the introduction of automation and digitization across public sectors, with an emphasis on the impacts on welfare systems and the rights to social security and equality. They will also learn about strategies and tools that have been successful in ensuring that the introduction of these systems is in line with human rights obligations states have under international treaties and conventions. The roundtable will invite participants from other sectors, such as representatives of states and intergovernmental organizations, to dialogue with the speakers and share perspectives that can strengthen policy and practice around the digitalization of public services.


Digital technologies and AI systems are increasingly being introduced as neutral, technocratic solutions that can make public service delivery more effective and efficient. However, a large body of work and literature shows that they often exacerbate inequalities and hinder access to essential public services due to challenges related to, among others, the way in which systems are designed, the dataset on which they are trained, and the “digital divide” and gaps in internet access among social groups who are most likely to require these services etc.

The roundtable will discuss how digitization and automation of public sector welfare and social assistance systems in Serbia, Kenya, Uganda and Colombia has led to the mass-scale exclusion of beneficiaries – particularly marginalized groups such as persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, women, and elderly population - and the implications for the rights to social security, equality and data protection, as well as related SDGs. Human rights experts will share their experiences challenging harmful digitization through courts and other quasi-judicial human rights bodies in the abovementioned countries, drawing from their individual work as well as a collective legal opinion submitted to the Serbian Constitutional Court by ESCR-Net in 2022. To ensure better engagement of all participants, the discussion will be expanded to invite participants to share reflections on other public services that are essential in fulfilling human rights and the SDGs, and which rely increasingly more on the use of automation, for instance housing, food, education, health etc,

Some of the questions that will be explored in the discussion are: what new challenges do digital technologies pose to economic, social and cultural rights and related SDGs? How have courts and human rights bodies responded to these challenges? What new collaborations and synergies can be used to address these challenges?

Expected Outcomes

Insights and contributions shared by experts and participants during the session will feed into a written brief on the automation of public services aimed at civil society, policy-makers and relevant stakeholders. We will invite participants to share email addresses and contacts, and interested participants will be contacted after the session to help shape the brief. This will be translated into 4 languages (in Eng, Spa, Fr, Ar) and disseminated among IGF and session participants, as well as ESCR-Net members (about 280 human rights organizations, social movements and individuals from over 80 countries).

Hybrid Format: The facilitators will draw from their experience and skills in delivering hybrid events that are highly engaging and relevant to different audiences. There will be specific check in points throughout the session to allow for interaction between online and onsite participants and this will be structured in a way that ensure collaborations and effective dialogue. For example, we are considering using Menti or other similar tools that participants can utilize on their mobile phones regardless of their mode of participation. Lastly, a concrete plan for collecting and sharing the findings of the session will be introduced at the beginning of the discussion and will help ensure closer collaboration among participants.
While a 90-minute roundtable would allow for quite in-depth discussion, we are also open to considering a 60-minute session if necessary.