Can ‘big data’ can help protect human rights?

January 5, 2014

Samir Goswami, managing director of AI USA’s Individuals and Communities at Risk Program, and Mark Cooke,  chief innovation officer at Tax Management Associates, wrote a piece about how ‘big data’ can help human rights rather than just violate them. The piece is worth reading but falls short of being convincing. The better prediction of human rights violations which may [!] result from the analysis of a huge amount of data would of course be welcome but I remain unconvinced that it would therefore lead to a reduction of actual violations. Too many of these are planned and willful, while the mobilization of shame and international solidarity would be less forthcoming for violations that MAY occur. The authors are not the first to state that prevention is better than cure but the current problem is no so much a lack of predictive knowledge as a weakness of curing intervention. Still, the article is worth reading as it describes developments that are likely to come about anyway. “Big data” [as we now refer to enormous collections of facts, figures and unstructured information like metadata and tweets] has helped us better understand crime rates and predict outbreaks of communicable diseases, and it radically improves our online shopping experiences. But imagine the potential benefits when such data science innovations are applied to the world of human rights. Rather than a digital hazard, computer technology that can handle big data can draw from information about human sentiments and actions to predict potential atrocities, reveal patterns of destructive human activities such as trafficking and help weigh prescriptive policies……………

…With the proper investments, understanding how data science helps human rights work can greatly add to our ability to monitor and act upon human rights risks as they emerge, and contribute to societies truly governed by the rule of law.Technology can help get us there.

via How big data can help secure human rights – SFGate.

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