Emerging Tech Digest (July 2021)

31 Jul 2021

This extract is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Digest, GPD’s newsletter. Sign up here.

Two significant developments on emerging tech

In July, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution on new and emerging digital technologies.

Unlike the first iteration of the Resolution, adopted in 2019, this second iteration was not adopted unanimously. After the rejection of efforts from China to replace language referring to a “human rights-based approach” and “human rights-based laws and policies”, China, Venezuela and Eritrea all abstained on the vote. Whether this marks a one-off, or is part of a longer term trend away from the unanimous adoption of technology-focused Resolutions at the Human Rights Council, remains to be seen.

Alongside other civil society groups, GPD engaged closely in the drafting process for this Resolution, and we’re pleased to see the final text explicitly recognise the importance of “a human rights-based approach to new and emerging digital technologies” and of “ensuring appropriate safeguards and human oversight in the application of new and emerging digital technologies”. The text also includes welcome language around stakeholder inclusion, calling for “meaningful participation of all relevant stakeholders, including the private sector, academia and civil society”. In terms of next steps, the Resolution gives the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights a mandate to undertake expert consultations on the relationship between human rights and technical standards and the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to the activities of technology companies. We’ll be following this work closely.

Elsewhere, July saw UNESCO publish the final version of its Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence. GPD has also been actively engaged in this process, having responded to an open consultation on an initial draft of the Recommendation in 2020 and commented on an updated draft earlier this year. The final text contains a number of positive changes, including the mainstreaming of human rights and additional detail on specific human rights concerns and high-risk AI systems, though some of our concerns about the text persist. We provide fuller thoughts here.

For up-to-date information about opportunities for civil society engagement around AI, take a look at our AI Forums Guide and Events Calendar.


Listening post

Your monthly global update, tracking relevant laws and policies relating to the digital environment.


On the emerging tech front:

  • India’s Joint Committee of Parliament was given a fifth extension to submit its report on the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 at the Monsoon session of Parliament, amid the government’s implication in the Pegasus malware scandal.
  • The British Virgin Islands’ Data Protection Act 2021 came into force.
  • Ireland published its National AI Strategy— ‘AI- Here for Good‘—which includes strong language around human rights.