Human rights documentation
Manila, March 21 2015

/ March 21, 2015


The Responsible Data Forum on Human Rights Documentation brought together practitioners and researchers to explore the ethical, privacy and security challenges posed by the use of data and new technologies in human rights documentation. The Forum was a hands-on and collaborative event, focused on developing concrete tools and strategies to ensure that documentation efforts do no harm. Issues such as  inclusive and participatory use of technology, verification and data standards were considered through the lens of responsibility, and the potential of new technologies for protecting and promoting human rights. Read more about the outcomes of the event on the blog here and here and by visiting the wikisite here.

Who: Approximately 20-25 people working to document human rights violations and protections: front-line activists and human rights defenders, members of the international training and support community, international and national human rights researchers. Organizational partners coordinating this event include HURIDOCSBenetechAmnesty InternationalCenter for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) and the engine room.

Technological tools and innovations have dramatically altered the landscape of human rights documentation. Access to tools and the ability to collect, manage and disseminate information with relatively little technical training promise powerful opportunities for human rights defenders. But the use of these tools and strategies also introduces new risks and challenges, which are little understood in practice or in theory.

  • Anonymity: When does data need to be anonymized at collection, and how does this change in context where different data sets can be easily mixed to re-identify individuals? When does identifying information get automatically collected by digital technologies?
  • Inclusivity: In what circumstances might affected communities become marginalized in the process of data collection, analysis and use? How can human rights defenders identify and mitigate this risk?
  • Red Lines: Some information should never be documented. What are those red lines? How do human rights defenders identify these red lines in practice? How to the account for the long term consequences of data that lives forever?
  • Open Human Rights Data: When does publicly releasing data on human rights strengthen accountability, and when does it risk increasing marginalization, supporting discriminatory policies and enabling violations. How can human rights defenders tell the difference?
  • Verification: In a world where anyone can collect and publish evidence or testimonial about human rights violations , how can the information obtained be verified? How do researchers include verification in efficient data management and advocacy? How do these challenges change in dangerous or repressive contexts and how do they coexist with the need to tell an urgent story?
  • Structure and standards: Is there a benefit to adhere to common protocols and/or commitments for the collection and management of information? Is there a benefit on adhering to common standards for data storage? Could this increase responsible sharing with enhanced source protection?

These are only a few of the challenges now faced by activists, researchers, lawyers, civil society and technology providers. This Responsible Data Forum aimed to address such issues in the specific contexts in which participants are working.

What is an RDF event?

The Responsible Data Forum event series are small, issue-based convenings to bring together advocates, technologists, to collaboratively develop materials for addressing the unintended consequences of using data in specific sectors. Over the past four years, we have developed a participatory methodology to enable creative development of prototypes and resources at the event itself, making the most of our in-person time. After the event, we share the tools more widely and seek to continue working on them.

Related /

/ July 26, 2022

Takeaways from our Community Call on Responsible Data for Social Justice Organisations

/ June 7, 2022

Community Call: Responsible Data for Social Justice Organisations

/ March 2, 2021

Curating connections in the Responsible Data community