Access Now announces 2018 Villains of Human Rights

Today, Access Now announces its selections for the 2018 Human Rights Villain Awards. The designation is reserved for those who have had an especially harmful impact on human rights, and in particular on privacy and secure communications. 

Our Villain Awards aim to shine light on the impact that the decisions of those in powerful positions can have on ordinary people. One major theme this year is the negative impact facial recognition and biometric tracking can have on people’s rights to privacy, data protection, and non-discrimination. The way these technologies are being developed and deployed globally fail to account for the risks they create, in particular for vulnerable communities. The risks are further exacerbated when the technologies and data collected are used for surveillance purposes.

“As technology increasingly integrates into every aspect of daily life for people around the world, it is only more important to call attention to the ways that certain behaviors and decisions can undermine human rights with serious consequences,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager and Global Policy Counsel at Access Now.

Each of the following Villains were selected through a public nomination process based on clear criteria. These recipients were put forward by the community, and together illustrate the global scope of threats to human rights online. Access Now’s 2018 Human Rights Villains are:

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison — alongside Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Energy Minister Angus Taylor, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Paterson, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, and Home Affairs Secretary Michael Pezzullo — for their work to push through invasive anti-encryption legislation;
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, for a range of actions that have undermined privacy and data protection rights and for targeting certain civil society groups that work to defend these rights;
  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) General Manager of Artificial Intelligence Dr. Matt Wood, for supplying Rekognition face surveillance technology to police departments and government agencies despite ample evidence of its negative impact on vulnerable communities;
  • Buenos Aires Chief of Government Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, for expanding surveillance — and in particular the use of biometric trackers — without the necessary transparency or oversight; and
  • Gatekeeper CEO Christopher A. Millar, for selling invasive surveillance technology to known human rights abusers, such as the government of Saudi Arabia.

More information about each of the Villains and the reason for their selection is available here.

Villain Award recipients should see this recognition as a warning sign from global digital rights defenders that we are watching. We call on them to improve their record going forward.

“The message of the Villain Award is this: You have reached a critical juncture in your work, and it is time to make a choice. You can continue on your current path, and undermine the human rights of the people impacted by your policies, products, and practices. Instead, we urge you to meaningfully reconcile with your negative impact on human rights, engage with civil society and other key stakeholders to mitigate and remedy past harms, and to chart a course forward that will put human rights first,” said Carolyn Tackett, Global Campaign Strategist at Access Now.

We have reached out to each of the 2018 Villains with specific recommendations for mitigating their negative impact and strengthening their human rights stance. Most of the 2018 Villains have also been targets of widely supported civil society campaigns urging them to move away from the policies and practices that have earned them a Villain Award, and we encourage them to heed that call.