Essential to progress and protection in the field of fundamental freedoms and human rights (and in all fields that depend upon them) is the availability, accessibility and reliability of human rights and human rights related information. As of today, however, there is no comprehensive, universally accessible and explorable repository of rights and fundamental freedoms relevant information and data assets, and the only taxonomies that obtain are found in local solutions in the legal field and are limited in scope. This lack is a key blockage to, among other things, effective human rights advocacy and international law, the work of the government, research, philanthropic, and professional organisations that depend upon this knowledge, and is limiting even the horizon of possibility for compliant and ethical innovation in technology. 

After several years of research, ERA has been conceived and architected to address these and other needs, and it is intended that the international community employ its empirical, legal, conceptual, and logical record to build more effective, more responsive human rights institutions, processes and technologies. 

The structuring and protection of rights and freedoms relevant information, and the making of it available and accessible to all – including the global public – for the first time will be an important landmark historically.

Overview of the solution

ERA is a proposed solution for a language-neutral standard of classification for — and the storage, exploration and protection of — all data, information and other relevant assets relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms. ERA aims to accurately and reliably identify rights and freedoms relevant information, enable it to be presented in context, mitigate dominant biases, and make it available and useful to everyone, from lawyers, academics and specialists, to developers, policy-makers, journalists, civil society, and the global public. 

An analytically powerful repository of qualitative and quantitative knowledge and data assets for rights and freedoms related information, ERA has been architected to ensure that, where relevant, this information will be available, accessible, tamper-proof, can be easily and precisely discovered, and can be easily and appropriately contributed to. 

In its most basic form, users of ERA will be able not only to consult it for ongoing research, analysis, legislation, litigation, and as a protection mechanism for the voiceless and vulnerable, but will also — especially significant in the cases of civil society, academia, policy and journalism — be able to contribute to ERA by indexing and publishing produced or encountered materials so that they are, and will always remain where appropriate, consultable. 

As a digital public good, ERA and its component elements will be free to use, open source and interoperable, providing transparency and encouraging collaboration and accessibility.

  • The storage and protection element of ERA: Reliable, persistent storage is a requirement for ERA, to prevent humanly valuable information from being taken offline for those who most need it. Its fundamental storage layer has been designed to utilise decentralised distributed file storage system architecture, including indexing, curated registries, and advanced cryptography (e.g. a zkSNARK allowing for ‘selective disclosure’). The storage architecture includes five key characteristics: zero downtime, censorship-resistant storage, the ability to establish provenance, the ability to enable curation, and the inclusion of privacy-preserving attribute verification. Election to any distributed, censorship resistant layer would be via a review layer.
  • The collection and structuring element of ERA will involve a range of solutions, from the analogue (a new, simple data input standard that will form the basis of a universal open source index and taxonomy) to the automated identification, collection and structuring of existent rights and freedoms related records, data assets, laws, regulations, evidence, journalism, research papers, articles and other materials, which are currently unavailable, inaccessible, or simply lost in the white noise of the net. ERA must also have the ability to integrate and connect already existing silos and repositories from various domains, including civil society, journalism, and the law, as well as theoretical and empirical research, forming an interconnected and collaborative knowledge network.
  • User interface and tooling: ERA will offer both self-hosted, secure workspaces as well as a general online workspace, which would both call from the permanent and review storage layers, publish to the review storage layer, and be able to make use of a rich array of compositional and analytical tooling. From launch, ERA will aim to provide the most advanced analytical and compositional tooling available, enabling users to derive meaningful insights and generate new work.
  • The access and navigation elements of ERA must make ERA’s information available, easily navigable and useful, and enable users to develop access and navigation solutions of their own, according to purpose. The uses of human rights and fundamental freedoms information being many, context specific, frequently culturally relative, as well as dependent upon a user’s language and purpose, it is vital that ERA does not inadvertently restrict possible uses by building undesirable limitations into the system. For this reason, ERA will be designed to facilitate and encourage the creation of navigation solutions and tools to be built upon its open source infrastructure.
  • Ensuring accessibility: In addition to its censorship resistant design, ERA is also working with partners to enable those within censored regions to access human rights and freedoms information reliably and securely, and with minimal latency. Era will justify its name if this information isn’t only collected for the first time so that it exists, but when we’ve also ensured that people who most need this information can get to it, whatever their region or circumstance.
  • Language neutrality: In spite of advances in machine learning, language remains a significant barrier to information when using conventional search engines. Searchers still depend upon linguistically-precise word tags in English or one of the half dozen other dominant Internet languages. This limits the accessibility and visibility of critical information. ERA is currently working toward a simple language-neutral indexing/input solution that neither favours major languages nor discriminates against minor languages, intended to create a level playing field for all languages and cultures.

In itself a valuable non-speculative use case for distributed file storage protocol, ERA is intended in its initial stage to give visibility, longevity, structure, and efficacy to all human rights information, but the system can be expanded to be compatible with other assets of human, cultural and historic value. Importantly, ERA’s infrastructure has been designed so that any number of use cases can be built upon it, several of which have already been conceived.

Development Blog

The World Ethical Data Foundation is currently inviting technology and research partnerships for this project. Please contact us if you, your organisation, institution, or company would like to participate.