Technical Standards and Human Rights: The Case of New IP

Authors: Carolina Caeiro, Kate Jones, and Emily Taylor


China is seeking to set the rules that will govern the technologies of the future through the development of digital technical standards. Influencing standards favors China’s efforts to consolidate as a tech superpower, while simultaneously allowing the country to build its own ideological tenets into the design of new technologies. This article looks at China’s proposal to standardize an alternative Internet infrastructure –branded by its proponents as ‘New IP’– as a case study to demonstrate how the development of technical standards has significant ethical and human rights implications. By looking at available depictions of New IP, the article outlines how this proposed networking model would enable mass surveillance and erode anonymity online. Whether implemented by China within its territory or deployed by third countries, New IP would interfere with the right to privacy, freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association and assembly of network users. In the specific case of China, New IP could strengthen social credit systems that make the implementation of some human rights conditional on government expectations around social behaviour, contradicting the principle of universality of human rights. Based on this case study, the article argues that standardization processes need to urgently develop greater human rights awareness or risk undermining human rights protections of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN human rights treaties. The article examines asymmetries that favor international trade protections over human rights considerations when dealing with ITU recommended technical standards, explaining China’s preference for this specific standards development organization. While standards development should remain a sphere of technical and engineering expertise, the article offers a series of recommendations to better integrate human rights into standardisation processes.

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Image credit: Image by Freepik

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