Our conceptions of personhood and identity have evolved drastically since at least the consumer computing revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. Personhood is not adequately recognised in the digital space. This space is in fact created from huge collections of pure data points, which can be used, manipulated, and moved by AI systems. These systems do not distinguish between a person and abstractions created by the person. If we wish to render this space habitable for persons, then, we need to protect, renew, and render explicable human rights, legal protections, and their moral implication for a world in which AI systems are a key vector of decision-making and change.
Traditionally the protection of our international legal and moral human rights is heavily dependent on political will and action by governments, but these tools struggle to track the pace and conditions of change in a digital world. This is not only due to the unregulated ways AI tracks, connects, and uses information, but also due to the unregulated ways information is fed back to the public, thus quite literally influencing public opinion and behaviour for profit. The power asymmetries between states and digital corporations, with the latter often acting with a monopoly over the use of digital technologies, exacerbates vulnerabilities of persons in the digital space.
While human rights can be (and are gradually being) expanded to the digital sphere, there are no explicit digital human rights. International, regional, national statutory, and case laws are unable to keep pace with the expansion and encroachment of digital technology into human lives. The gap between existing legal protections and the ethical, moral, and potentially legal issues raised by the developments and impacts of digital technology means that there are no real-time protections or modes of defence for our digital identities.
We argue that what is required is a robust conception of digital human rights, capable of foregrounding rights and responsibilities, rendering them explicable, and providing grounds for adequately rethinking conceptions of personhood and identity.