Deusto Declaration Human Rights in Digital EnvironmentsPrivacy

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We are in the mature expansion phase of the third industrial revolution that started in the mid-twentieth century. The debate on the fourth industrial revolution has now begun. This phase combines digital technologies with disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology and other natural sciences, and in so doing it fully automates the production and service processes in business (‘enterprise 4.0’) and in everyday life (the ‘internet of things’).

The revolutionary phenomenon described above has profound and radical implications for many social orders and settings (economy, politics, and culture, among others). This fast-paced process operates over a vast spatial scale, making social assimilation difficult. And more importantly, it means that it is virtually impossible to provide ethical, legal and social answers commensurate with the pace and scope of the transformation process.

The technological breakthroughs involved have a significant feature: they are not benign, but equivocal in nature. While this phenomenon has brought significant advances and technical solutions, it has also generated new problems and conflicts, including the undermining of some fundamental rights.

Information technologies belong very much to our present, and are nothing to be alarmed about. However, there is some reason for concern as to how the improper use of large sets of personal data collected through IT could negatively affect the individual’s privacy, reputation and even dignity. Users have lost control of their data and this control needs to be regained. We contend that the Law should limit the abusive use of information technologies. The individual should be able to enjoy the benefits of these technologies, but some instruments need to be put in place to ensure their appropriate usage and development.

Many researchers have argued for a fourth generation of human rights designed to deal with new Internet-related situations. The first generation of human rights protected citizens from the power of States. The second generation, which recognised social rights, proposed a State that guaranteed a decent life. The third generation of fundamental rights was consistent with globalisation, proclaiming the right to peace and a healthy natural environment for all peoples on the planet. It is now time for the Law to limit exploitation and abuse, focused this time on protecting the individual from the mismanagement of technology. Therefore, a fourth generation of fundamental rights suitable for the digital age is required. The right to be forgotten, the right to a digital identity, and the right to online impartiality are only some components of human dignity and personality that have gone hand in hand with the original technological breakthrough, and must now be addressed.

The entry into force of the General Data Protection Regulation on 25 May 2018 was a legislative milestone. The repercussions and international scope of this Regulation have had a significant impact on the legal protection of people in the information society. A good part of this legal impact lies in the broad scope of its application, as in certain circumstances it reaches beyond the European Union.

Throughout history, every important effort to protect human rights has emerged as a response by the civil society to overt abuses of power. Given the current exponential rise in the number of violations of rights in the digital world, it seems reasonable to move forward in proclaiming and asserting new fundamental rights resulting from technological advances and developments.

The digital transformation has clearly brought about many advantages, some of which cannot be renounced. Therefore, these issues can only be addressed by humanising technology, not by opposing it. This principle has been the inspiration behind this Declaration, which is based on the following undertakings: 

  • To prioritise the individual over all of humanity's creations, including technology, which should be at the service of people.
  • To safeguard respect for every individual’s integrity; this goes beyond their being reduced to data, and thus reified.
  • To ensure that the common good prevails over individual interests, however legitimate and prevalent they may be.
  • To guarantee personal autonomy and responsibility in the face of paternalistic and disengaging tendencies.
  • To provide equal and universal access to, and protection and enjoyment of, the goods and rights that make a person’s life worth living.
  • To pay special attention to the protection of minors due to their greater vulnerability, and to the impact that the digital transformation has on the development of their personality and their education.


I. The University of Deusto seeks to raise awareness of the urgent need to reflect and debate on the protection of human rights in the context of the technological revolution. There are two underlying reasons for this: (i)) the maturity of technological development is enabling significant advances, but is also undermining some fundamental rights; and (ii) social media are increasingly being used to virally spread post-truth, seriously threatening people's freedom. This situation is a reason for concern for a large number of people. As a result, concerted action is required that brings together the civil society, public authorities and knowledge institutions. The University wants to make a specific contribution by urging people to take action.

II. As an institution linked to the Society of Jesus that is inspired by Christian humanism but open to other approaches, we are committed to the development of technological advances. We are also dedicated to react to situations where technology undermines fundamental rights, on the understanding that society expects and demands that we exercise a reasonable, critical judgement in the service of the common good.

III. Given that the University of Deusto is closely linked to the society which it serves, it undertakes to foster debate on, and promote the following rights within its jurisdiction, urging the relevant bodies to implement them:

Right to be forgotten on the Internet

Individuals have the right to have their personal data erased from Internet search engines. Their right to prevent the dissemination of, and access to, personal information on the Internet needs to be guaranteed in accordance with legal requirements (when such information is no longer relevant or up to date). In addition, universal, unlimited dissemination of personal data on Internet search engines needs to be restricted whenever the information is not publicly relevant or in the public interest, even if such information is true and it can be preserved in its original source.

Right to be offline

All individuals are entitled to cease to make themselves available online and to implement measures to disconnect, in order to prevent being required to be online and reachable, and to have their right to rest guaranteed.

An individual's right to protect their 'digital state' 

Every person has the right to manage their digital identity and their digital estate after death. Each individual should establish the mechanisms to make decisions about the deletion, recovery or preservation of their digital estate. An individual’s digital estate consists of digital assets that have emotional and economic value, such as blogs, social media profiles, email accounts, graphic and photographic files related to them, their life and their experiences. Legal procedures need to be implemented to guarantee the online reputation of deceased persons and facilitate the management of digital assets in the event of a person’s death.

Right to the protection of personal integrity in connection with technology

Every person is entitled to have their fundamental rights and public rights protected vis-à-vis cyberspace. These specifically refer to an individual’s right to privacy, image and honour, specifically when personal integrity is attacked by the use of toxic contents.

Right to online freedom of expression

There should be no constraints on an individual's online freedom of expression, including automatic filtering or blocking, denial-of-service attacks, deletion of search results, and other unlawful mechanisms. This right shall be exercised with full respect for other fundamental rights.

Right to digital identity

Individuals have a right to control their online identity, and to prevent any undesired third-party interference in how they manage it. An individual’s digital identity is their online representation; as such, it is shaped through their free and voluntary activity on the Internet, and based on other people’s online activity as well. An individual’s ability to manage their digital identity, control their personal data, and decide how they are used by a third party must be governed by the principles of visibility, reputation and privacy.

Right to privacy in technological environments

Individuals have the right to have their personal data protected. The right to privacy is a further development of the fundamental rights to secrecy, honour, image and dignity in the digital world, and people’s right to have private online communications must be recognised. The right to control the use and purpose of one’s personal data must also be guaranteed, in order to prevent said data from being collected, transferred and processed unlawfully or in a manner that may be harmful to the individual’s dignity and rights.

Right to transparency and accountability for the use of algorithms

Individuals have a right to access any significant information about the logic applied to algorithm-based decision-making. They are also entitled to know the significance and possible consequences of their personal data being processed. Public and private organisations should be accountable for any decisions made that rely on algorithms.

Right to be ultimately supported by an actual person in decisions made by expert systems

Any decisions and actions that affect an individual’s personal development and rights should not be solely carried out by automated data processes. Therefore, individuals are entitled to have any automated decision that impacts their rights and liberties reviewed by an actual person.

Right to equal opportunities in digital economy

Every individual has the right to equal opportunities in the exchange of digital goods and services, and efforts should be made to ensure that all persons are able to exercise this right unhindered as part of the free competition system.

Consumer rights in electronic commerce

Consumers have the right to receive accurate information about online goods and services. The use of the Internet in processing transactions shall not undermine the rights and warranties of consumers, whether in customer service, opt-out rights or product quality. Consumers shall also be entitled to use different secure payment methods.

Online intellectual property rights

Individuals are entitled to decide to have their online literary, artistic, scientific and/or technical production protected. This right shall be exercised in compliance with fundamental principles such as the right of access to culture, and to scientific and technical research in the public interest.

Universal right to Internet access

Internet access should be universal, regardless of an individual’s geographic location, economic level, disability or other personal constraints, in order to ensure that other human rights are respected.

Right to digital literacy

All individuals have the right to digital literacy, and assurances should be given that they will be able to find and assess online information, to create their own content, to securely communicate and navigate on the Internet, and to have any technical problems they may encounter resolved.

Right to online impartiality

All persons are entitled to have their online traffic treated impartially. It shall not be subject to discrimination, regardless of the content, website, platform, application, equipment, device or mechanism used to access the Internet.

Right to online security

Individuals have the right to online security, which guarantees the integrity and confidentiality of their data, as well as protection from malware and specialised attacks.