Deadly Digital Dehumanization – Human Rights Watch

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In today’s Daily Brief: The Dangers of Reducing Humans to Data  Good News Update: Australia  Poland’s All-out Assault on Women’s Rights  Take Note: Other Key Stories  Listen: Iraq 20 Years On  Quote of the Day: Poland
We often hear about “the rise of the machines,” but the flip side of that is what we should really be concerned with: “the fall of human control.”
Those of us focused on human rights are worried in particular about what it means for the use of force. Who is making the most important decisions – decisions that could harm people, even decisions of life and death?
For years, we have been warning about fully autonomous weapons, also known as “killer robots,” which would be able to select and engage targets in war zones (or even in policing) without any real human control.
Yes, it’s the plot of a hundred science fiction movies, but the threat is very real.
Many countries are already using precursors to these weapons, like armed drones. Without a ban on “killer robots,” governments will take the next step and start delegating life-and-death decisions to machines.
From being in charge of the machines, human beings would become their subjects. We would be little more than data points, which the machines would use to decide about who lives and who dies.
Experts have given this process a name, digital dehumanization, and the idea can apply beyond weapons systems – think, self-driving cars or medical diagnoses.
But when humans are reduced to data, and that data becomes the basis for decisions that can negatively affect their lives, we’ve replaced the concept of human responsibility for errors with a kind of “automated harm.”
In a conflict zone, the consequences would be catastrophic.
Without someone – some human being – to hold accountable for an atrocity, it is pretty much impossible to achieve any justice. A massacre of civilians in a conflict zone would be presented as a design problem rather than a war crime.
And our digital dehumanization would be complete.
Regular readers will be familiar with the case of Violet Coco, the climate crisis protester who was handed an outrageous 15-month prison sentence in Australia for a peaceful protest. Some demonstrating against the sentence even used this newsletter’s words in their demonstrations.
We then happily reported she’d been released from prison some weeks later while she worked on her appeal.
Now, good news again: a Sydney court has overturned her sentence altogether.
The court found 32-year-old Coco had been sentenced on a “false factual basis.” Police claimed an ambulance with lights and sirens had been prevented from attending an emergency due to the Coco’s protest. But the claim was untrue and was then retracted.
My colleague in Australia, Sophie McNeill, says police need to explain this shockingly false claim.
And more broadly, she says, the government of the Australian state of New South Wales needs to review its problematic anti-protest law that caused the original injustice.
Coco should never have been jailed for her peaceful protest in the first place. The state should make sure no one else is in future.
(written by Lisa Maier)  
Daunting news from Poland: abortion activist and women’s rights defender Justyna Wydrzyńska – about whom we have reported here before – was convicted in a Warsaw court yesterday for helping a woman access abortion pills.
The verdict clearly shows Poland’s government is conducting an all-out assault on women’s rights. 
After leaving women and girls nowhere to turn by essentially banning legal abortion in 2020, the government is now hunting down activists. They’ve gone after other reproductive rights campaigners and providers, including a member of parliament for a peaceful pro-abortion protest. 
Yesterday’s verdict has wider implications, too, as governments elsewhere also crack down on women’s rights. Justyna’s case matters for women and girls not only in Poland, but across the EU and around the world.
Sooner or later, any one of us may rely on a Justyna, or we may be her. 
(compiled by Lisa Maier)
Today, Birgit Schwarz’s weekly Twitter Space audio conversation examines the disastrous invasion of Iraq twenty years ago and the human rights struggles that continue in the country to this day. Listen live at 14h00 CET (9am ET) or recorded at the same link afterward.
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