IV. Summary of current and expected context

Since APC's last Strategic Plan 2016-2019, many of the same challenges and trends remain highly relevant. However, the broader context in which APC operates has changed in ways that threaten the enjoyment of human rights, and in particular the ability of women, marginalised minorities and vulnerable communities to make their voices heard and to contribute to and benefit from the development of a just and sustainable world.  

Governments’ and corporations’ interests are colluding in many ways. States have allowed companies to occupy public roles, resulting in an expansion of corporate power. The current internet “allows for social media companies to regulate every piece of content – and it gives governments the targets for regulation and surveillance,” [10] resulting in surveillance capitalism. 

In an alarming number of countries, populist and authoritarian governments have ascended to power using digital tools, in tacit or in some cases explicit coordination with corporate giants. Once in power, populist and authoritarian governments have used technology to suppress dissent, roll back human rights, and thwart advocacy by women, LGBTIQ groups and marginalised communities. Civic space has been shrinking at the same time that malicious state and non-state actors with racist and xenophobic motives have used technology to attack, threaten and harm women, minorities and migrants.

It is against this backdrop that we observe persistent challenges to a just and sustainable world becoming more acute, as well as new and emerging threats as a result of technological advances.

In the absence of policy and regulation to curtail the inherent abuses, the exploitation of personal data for private and political purposes has expanded to previously unimaginable proportions. Mass and targeted surveillance by governments facilitated by corporate surveillance combined with the datafication of people’s personal information has fundamentally altered how people relate to their governments, companies and each other. This is linked to the rapid expansion of video surveillance technologies such as interoperable high definition cameras, facial recognition software, drones and the indiscriminate use of biometric identification systems. The use of malicious software (malware) by states continues to allow the monitoring of the electronic communications of political dissidents, human rights defenders, journalists, activists and ordinary people.  

Artificial intelligence is being applied in various aspects of people’s lives without human rights due diligence, which puts people at risk of being subject to discrimination and bias without recourse, thus undermining human rights and democratic institutions. Technological innovations have also led to the enhanced ability to manipulate digital realities (e.g. “deep fake” videos) which has fomented mistrust in veritable sources of information.

Cyberattacks have become increasingly sophisticated and disruptive, affecting businesses and the operations of critical infrastructure including hospitals, power grids, financial institutions and government agencies. The right to privacy has been under assault, leaving users of digital technologies vulnerable and with limited means to protect their rights. States urgently need to agree on the “rules of the road” to avoid the escalation of cyberattacks, in order to enhance both security and human rights. 

While there is a rise in global wealth, wealth inequality persists. [11] A World Bank study found that in most countries, whether rich or emerging, huge transfers of public to private wealth have occurred since 1980. The combination of rising income inequality and large transfers of public to private wealth contributed to the steep rise in wealth inequality. [12]

Inequality limits opportunities to improve well-being, and undermines democracy as power imbalances favour elites at the expense of the needs of ordinary people, and in particular women and minority groups. Digitalisation in the workplace is leading to precarious labour conditions for workers and the lack of adequate public policy responses to it. Upgrading skills through worker training has lagged. Technological innovation has tended to weaken workers' negotiating powers. 

Climate change has reached crisis dimensions and is a threat to the sustainability of life on earth. Digitalisation has compounded the problem, by increasing the carbon footprint and e-waste, by facilitating the dissemination of misinformation by climate change deniers, and by obfuscating deliberations on issues that should be based on evidence and scientific principles. It has become increasingly clear that governments and international institutions are unlikely to take decisive action in time to avert a climate catastrophe.  

Digital exclusion persists despite the vaunted promise of connecting the next billion, and remains an obstacle for poor communities, especially those living in rural areas. Across the board, there is a slowdown in the growth of voice and internet users, whether one looks at mobile subscribers or internet penetration. The strategies that have been deployed for decades simply won’t address the needs of the billions of people in developing countries who still suffer from digital exclusion. Without meaningful access, people are being left behind from the social and economic benefits of the digital society and economy and have no means to benefit economically from digital technologies, advocate for themselves, or fight for their rights. 

These critical features of the emerging environment condition the ability of APC and its partners to mobilise people and resources and steer an effective response to these formidable challenges.


[10] David Kaye. Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet. Columbia Global Reports, 2019.
[12] “World Inequality Report 2018”. https://wir2018.wid.world
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