On Friday, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights presented his annual report to the UN General Assembly in New York on digital technology, social protection and human rights. On the same day, Privacy International will be launching its own series on surveillance in the provision of social services.
The Special Rapporteur warns that specific areas need to be addressed to “avoid stumbling zombie-like into a digital welfare dystopia” and that “values such as dignity, choice, self-respect, autonomy, self-determination, privacy, and a range of other factors are all traded off” supposedly in the name of efficiency, budget-saving, flexibility and fraud detection.
The case-studies and harms presented in the report, supported by the submissions of various stakeholders, illustrate the existing threats resulting from the current understanding and direction of the digitisation of social welfare. Ensuring that new technologies can “transform the welfare state for the better” requires rethinking the current approach to digital welfare, ensuring strong regulation and adopting a human rights approach.