Essentially, digital rights refer to our human rights, provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the European Convention on Human Rights, but exercised in a digital or online environment, using technological media. 


As we increasingly live online, from educating ourselves (right to education) to working (right to work) to shopping to socialising and entertaining, there has been an ongoing debate over whether we should regulate digital human rights as such, and especially whether access to the internet should be a right in itself.


Largely, we should be able to enjoy and exercise our rights in the same manner, both online and offline. Foremost, everyone should be able to use the internet in an affordable and non-discriminatory way (rights to access and non-discrimination), so as to access information and express our opinions freely (right to information and freedom of expression). Moreover, connectivity enables us to create online communities and develop online campaigns or support initiatives (freedom of assembly, association and participation), while keeping our identity private if we choose to do so (right to privacy and data protection); particular safeguards are instituted for the protection of children online.


While being an enabler of progress, technological advancement can also challenge the exercise of digital rights: data protection and privacy breaches, mass surveillance, algorithmic bias and discrimination, micro-targeting, online censorship, are just a few of the ways in which technology can be misused and infringe digital rights. This is especially critical in the case of young people, as they require increasing protection against cyberattacks, cyberbullying, abusive content moderation, data breaches, and other human rights infringements.


In order to avoid negative consequences and mitigate the risks, a multistakeholder approach to digital rights protection and regulation of rights in online environments needs to be adopted. State actors, but also academia, tech companies, private sector representatives, civil society and the youth sector should argue for technological safety, transparency and accountability, but also the robust and sustainable co-creation, design and deployment of technological innovation and digital transformation.


Irina Buzu
Irina Buzu

Irina is a techlaw and intellectual property attorney, currently pursuing her PhD research in AI regulation with a focus on the legal status and accountability of AI. She is an emerging technologies fellow at Europuls, as well as a Algorithmic decision making cycle co-lead at the Institute for Internet and the Just Society. Most recently, she became part of the AI literacy expert group of the Council of Europe and a member of the European AI Alliance.