Technology could hurt human rights, says UNESCO study

The ubiquitous nature of new technologies could hurt human rights, according to a study by the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

In the report, "Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies", UNESCO argues that the effects of the pace and breadth of future technologies must be considered.

"The quickening speed of technological evolution leaves little time to decision-makers, legislators and other major stakeholders to anticipate and absorb changes before being challenged to adapt to the next wave of transformation," wrote Abdul Waheed Khan assistant director-general for communication and information at UNESCO. "Lacking the time for lengthy reflection, the international community is often faced with immediate policy choices that carry serious moral and ethical consequences."

The study looked at the ethical implications of leading new technologies, including semantic web, digital ID management, radio-frequency identification (RFID) and sensors, location-based services, grid computing and other new computing methods.

For example, while biometrics, RFID and sensors can improve efficiency, access to public services and security, they could also be abused to allow extensive surveillance. A code of ethics must be developed to ensure technology works for people, not against them, study authors Mary Rundle and Chris Conley wrote.

"The first infoethics goal, derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, establishes the fundamental priority of putting technology in the service of human rights," they wrote in the report.

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