IGF 2023 WS #456 How to place digital technology at the service of democracy

Organizer 1: Marc Limon, Universal Rights Group
Organizer 2: David Fairchild, 🔒
Organizer 3: David Hevey, Australian Permanent Mission to the UN, Geneva
Organizer 4: Konstantinos Komaitis, 🔒The Atlantic Council

Speaker 1: Marc Limon, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: David Fairchild, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 3: David Hevey, Government, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 4: Konstantinos Komaitis, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Marc Limon, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator

David Fairchild, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Konstantinos Komaitis, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Round Table - 60 Min

Policy Question(s)

A. What are the design principles that should exist in order to make sure that digital tools, including AI and social media platforms, strengthen, rather than erode, democracy and the enjoyment of human rights?
B. What are the different opportunities and threats digital technologies create for the democratic State, and how to ensure the active application of rights-based design principles by technology companies (including SMEs) and governments (i.e., when regulating)?
C. How can the international community create spaces for governments, civil society organisations and technology companies to regular come together to discuss joint approaches to common challenges

What will participants gain from attending this session? This workshop will seek to discuss the use of human rights frameworks, principles and mechanisms to support the conception, design, development and use of digital technology solutions that avoid doing harm to the rights of individuals and to democratic societies as a whole, and instead are placed at the service of individual rights holders, including voting citizens, as well as democratic societies as a whole.



Co-sponsors: Universal Rights Group, Canada, Australia

The growing relationship between digital technology, human rights and democracy represents a paradox: on the one hand technology provides opportunities for social innovators to advance the cause of universal values and strengthen democracy, while on the other hand its potential misuse represents new threat vectors to human rights and democratic governance.

As highlighted by a group of UN Special Rapporteurs, “Digital space is not neutral space. At the levels of its physical architecture, regulation and use, different groups exert their interests over it.”

If technology is not neutral, then the question arises as to how to maximise the benefits of digital technology for individuals and democratic societies, while minimising and countering their inherent potential to do harm. In the digitalized 21st century individuals are increasingly presented with the 'dichotomy of choice' (Shoshana Zuboff's principle of the surveillance economy).

To prevent the relationship between technology and human rights/democracy from becoming a trade-off, it is vital to address the distance or disconnect that exists between technological and human rights communities and digital policy spaces. There is also a clear need for clear guidance for technology companies, including start-ups as well as for governments, on how the universal human rights framework can be applied to the design, development, and use of digital technologies, while at the same time raising awareness and convincing stakeholders of the added value of integrating human rights into decision-making at the technological and policy levels.

Expected Outcomes

- Introduce work and debates in this already already undertaken in the context of the UN Human Rights Council to IGF participants and the technology community.
- The outcomes and discussions in the workshop will likewise be fed into relevant processes and UN resolutions at the Human Rights Council and debates at the ITU.

Hybrid Format: - All Universal Rights Groups events are hybrid - offline and online
- It will be an interactive roundtable discussions, rather than panel presentations, though led by expert discussants from States (developed and developing), OHCHR (UN), civil society and technology companies.
- Full participation from online participants will be facilitated.
- URG uses Zoom, with use of chatroom.