What are digital rights and what is their relationship to the SDGs?

Importance of digital rights

What are digital rights and what is their relationship to the SDGs?

This week we celebrate within the framework of the Mobile World Congress 2022. And in collaboration with the Secretary of State for Digitization and Artificial Intelligence. An event on the importance of digital rights and their relationship with business sustainability. For this reason, today we stop to reflect on this concept and how it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What Are Digital Rights?

Starting by clarifying this concept, digital rights are an extension of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations Organization (UN) which promote a model of digital transformation that reinforces the human dimension.

The ultimate goal of these is to guarantee access to the Internet for all people in order to close the digital divide and promote the correct use of the Internet as a common good for all of humanity.

Currently, there is no standard for these rights, but rather each country has created its own letter of digital rights. Spain, in fact, is one of them.

Why Are They Necessary?

Charter of Digital Rights

The new digital era is full of opportunities for companies, from the creation of new jobs related to new technologies, improvements in the productivity of employees, less polluting production processes, etc.

However, the digital age is not without its challenges. The automation of processes can lead to the loss of unskilled jobs. The digital divide continues to be high among some groups. Cybercrime costs States and companies millions of euros in losses each year, etc.

“Humanity must be at the center of technological evolution. Technology should not use people, we should use technology for the benefit of all»

As António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, declares, in this new digital era, the transformation of our society must be approached considering human rights, placing people at the center, empowering citizens, and encouraging innovative companies.

Therefore, digital rights are based on this conviction and are based on fundamental rights from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, applied in the digital age. For this reason, digital solutions based on respect for human rights will be more effective and inclusive.

What Is The Digital Bill Of Rights?

In July 2021, the Government of Spain presented its own Charter of Digital Rights. This does not have a normative nature, but rather offers a reference framework to guarantee the rights of citizens in the new digital reality.

Its objective is to recognize the challenges posed by the adaptation of current rights to the virtual and digital environment. Likewise, the Charter of Digital Rights aims to reinforce the rights of citizens. Generate certainty for society in the new digital reality, and increase people’s confidence in the changes and disruptions that new technologies bring with them.

To do this, it is structured into six main categories of rights, which cover all areas of uncertainty and risk:

  • freedom rights
  • equality rights
  • Rights of participation and conformation of public space
  • Rights of the work and business environment
  • Digital rights in specific environments
  • Rights of guarantees and efficiencies

Practically all the rights included in these blocks are aspects contemplated in the Data Protection Law and other codes already in force. However, it also adds some newer ones such as those related to artificial intelligence. Algorithmic non-discrimination, or the right to pseudonymity, for example.

How Can The SDG Framework Contribute To The Respect Of These Rights?

The framework of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals help companies to face present and future challenges. Among which are those related to human rights, also the so-called digital rights.

Here are some of the main relationships between the two frameworks:

Right to data protection and cybersecurity

This right is intrinsically related to two specific Objectives: 9 on the industry, innovation, and infrastructure in the aspect of “Consider the right to dignity and access to information in the processing of digital data”; and also with SDG 16 of peace, justice and solid institutions with regard to “Ensure transparency and security in the use of digital tools.”

Right to non-discrimination in the digital environment

Currently, most companies are working to introduce the gender and diversity perspective in their businesses. Emphasizing internal policies that ensure equal treatment for all staff. However, these policies and strategies must not be limited to internal aspects. But must also be extrapolated to the digital world. To do this, companies can rely on SDG 5 on gender equality in order to ensure the absence of gender bias in data and algorithms. And also in SDG 10 to reduce inequalities, promoting digitization that includes older people, people with disabilities, etc.

Digital rights in the workplace

Lately, especially due to the rise of telecommuting, there has been a lot of talk about the right to disconnect. This is directly linked to the mental health of workers. Who must be able to separate their work life from their personal life? As well as take advantage of new technologies to improve conciliation. We speak then that these rights have an impact on two specific SDGs: SDG 3 on health and well-being, in the sense of ensuring that all employees can disconnect from their professional environment; and SDG 5 in relation to the promotion of teleworking and other aspects related to conciliation through technologies.

Right to digital education

Not all people have access to technology or are digital natives, just as not everyone is aware of the risks that it entails. For this reason, it is necessary to educate in promoting education in connectivity, infrastructures, and digital tools (SDG 4). And promote the digital qualification of the company’s workers (SDG 8).

Right before artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool that should not lose sight of the fact that people must be at the center of decisions. In this sense, in its use, the rights of the workforce must be guaranteed before artificial intelligence systems (SDG 8) and also guarantee inclusive digitization with technologies based on fundamental rights (SDG 9).

Right to a sustainable digital environment

Of course, the digital environment and new technologies also have a negative impact on the environment that must be managed so that it is as small as possible. In this regard, SDG 7 on clean and non-polluting energy can be a great ally through the use of clean energy sources and the promotion of energy efficiency. Likewise, it will be necessary to look at technological development from the perspective of SDG 13 on climate action, so that the risks of the advancement of climate change are considered.


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