Digital Debates

The Online Debate from a Civil Society Perspective


Digital Debate 6: On ethical red lines for the use of digital tools by CSOs

The digital transformation encompasses consumer electronics, online shopping and education, eGovernment and Gig work. And as our societies undergo this transformation, so do civil society organisations (CSOs). What started with digitalised back offices, eMail and accounting, has evolved in CSOs maintaining data and databases, using biometrics and bots, experimenting with artificial intelligence. Some CSOs have entered into alliances with tech companies while others keep their distance, criticising their business models and advocating for change.

Hosted by Barb Iverson, the 6th Digital Debate will discuss the role of CSOs in this vast landscape, sometimes called surveillance capitalism or platform economy, and state-sponsored digital surveillance or CSOs-driven compassionate surveillance. The perspective offered by three eminent panellists is not that of self-styled digital freedom fighters but that of analysts who observe that in times of a pandemic, even CSOs seem convinced that the battle for health is not only fought by virologists and epidemiologists but also by computer scientists and big data specialists.

Fighting poverty with pen and paper was yesterday. Today’s modernisation lures by collecting personal data for statistical modelling and automated decision-making. The digital rights movement has produced numerous documents, enshrining principles, guidelines, and codes of conduct that are trying to set a framework for operating ethically. But none of these well-meaning documents is legally binding, and when laws come into play, such as the GDPR data protection regulation, then most CSOs rely on self-policing rather than submitting themselves to third party supervision and litigation.

So, the question stands: Where are ethical red lines for the use of digital tools by Civil Society Organisations?

2 September 2021, 16:00 hrs. CEST

Digital Debates: Event Series

Every month, this event series will provide inspiring discussions for the civil society sector based on the constant change that digitalisation brings to our societies. Each debate will be a call to action for CSOs to take a more active role in shaping our digital future.

Barbara Iverson will moderate each debate. She teaches Interpersonal Skills and Intercultural Management at the CODE University of Applied Sciences in Berlin.

Digital Debate Panellists

  • Zara Rahman
  • Deputy Director, The Engine Room, UK
  • Bio
  • Tim Dagori Muiruri
  • Project Manager, Governance and Digital Security Practise (GovLab), Co-creation Hub (CcHub), Kenya
  • Bio
  • Matt Mahmoudi
  • Researcher/Advisor on Artificial Intelligence & Human Rights, Amnesty International, UK
  • Bio

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Further Reading

Can we really call this a free society? We ask Amnesty International’s Matt Mahmoudi

As part of an international campaign to lift the lid on data privacy violations, The Privacy Collective asked some of the UK's leading experts why online privacy matters. In this interview, Matt Mahmoudi discussed the need to reclassify privacy from being an individual issue to a community problem, the danger of becoming desensitised to surveillance technologies, and the risks of decision making by algorithms.


Contingency Planning in the Digital Age: Biometric Data of Afghans Must Be Reconsidered

The situation in Afghanistan changes by the minute. In this blog post, Katja Lindskov Jacobsen and Karl Steinacker want to call attention to a largely overlooked issue: the protection of Afghan refugees or other Afghans who have been registered biometrically by humanitarian or military agencies. Having collected biometrics from various parts of the Afghan population, for different purposes and with different technical approaches, recent events teach us a vital lesson: both the humanitarian and military approaches come with significant risks and unintended consequences.


Ban the Scan

Amnesty International launched a global campaign to ban the use of facial recognition systems, a form of mass surveillance that amplifies racist policing and threatens the right to protest. The Ban the Scan campaign began with New York City and will then expand to focus on the use of facial recognition in other parts of the world in 2021. Facial recognition systems are a form of mass surveillance that violate the right to privacy and threaten the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.


Biometric mass surveillance in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland

A new research report shows that in Germany, the Netherlands and Poland, biometric systems are increasingly being used to control people’s access to healthcare, sports venues, travel, shopping and other everyday activities. As a result, people are being given the false ‘choice’ to either submit their sensitive data, or be excluded from society.