Can Big Data Revolutionize International Human Rights Law?

Galit A. Sarfaty, Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia


International human rights efforts have been overly reliant on reactive tools and focused on treaty compliance, while often under emphasizing the prevention of human rights violations. I argue that data analytics can play an important role in refocusing the international human rights regime on its original goal of preventing human rights abuses, but it comes at a cost. There are risks in advancing a data-driven approach to human rights, including the privileging of certain rights subject to quantitative measurement and the precipitation of further human rights abuses in the process of preventing other violations. Moreover, the increasing use of big data can ultimately privatize the international human rights regime by transforming the corporation into a primary gatekeeper of rights protection. Such unintended consequences need to be addressed in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of using big data in this field.