Published in August 2020
Abstract: The right to technology is a forgotten human right. Dating back to 1948, the right was established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) in response to the massive destruction wrought by technologically advanced weapons in the Second World War. This human right embodies one of the most profound lessons the framers of the UDHR learned from this war: Technology must benefit humanity rather than harm it.
It has been more than seventy years since the adoption of the UDHR, and technology has advanced at a rapid pace and become more important than ever in our daily lives. Yet in this age of technology, the right to technology remains obscure, dormant, and ineffective. No other human right has received such scant attention, and the right to technology has indeed become an “orphan” in the international human rights regime. This article traces the origins of society’s disregard for the right and attributes it to the confluence of three main contributing factors: (1) the right’s inherent obscurity, (2) the ineffective human rights enforcement system, and (3) the international community’s overemphasis on intellectual property protection. The current human rights regime is unable to sufficiently address these complex factors, as it remains deeply rooted in the individual rights system and lacks a fully-fledged distributive justice vision.
Against this backdrop, this article reinvigorates the right to technology by recommending its protection as a collective right. It considers how and why the right to technology should be redefined as a collective right that entitles people to enjoy the benefits of technological progress and minimizes the harms that such progress may cause. A collective right to technology can protect both larger societal interests in maintaining public freedom and dignity, as well as specific group interests in guarding against the use of technologies to prejudice group freedom and dignity. This new understanding of the right to technology, therefore, sets distributive justice agendas for promoting the development of intellectual property law into the public interest.