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. However, there is currently no comprehensive, coherent, or universally accessible library of human rights and fundamental freedoms information and data assets and the only taxonomies that obtain are found in local solutions in the legal field and 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 also limiting the horizon of possibilities for compliant and ethical innovation in technology. 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 unbiased ordering of human rights relevant information, and the making of it available and accessible to all – including the global public – for the first time is an important landmark historically.

ERA is a proposed solution for a language-neutral international standard of classification for — and the storage and protection of — all data, information and other relevant assets relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms. ERA aims to accurately and reliably identify human rights information, present it in context, eradicate dominant biases, and make it available to everyone, from lawyers, academics, and specialists, to developers, policy-makers, journalists, civil society, and the global public. ERA has been designed to ensure that, where relevant, information will be censorship-resistant, censorship-circumventing and tamper-proof, can be easily and precisely discovered, and can be easily and appropriately added to. In its most basic form, users of ERA will be able not only to consult ERA for ongoing research, legislation, litigation, as a protection mechanism for the voiceless and vulnerable, but will also — especially significant in the cases of civil society, law, and investigative journalism — contribute to ERA by indexing and publishing produced or encountered materials so that they are, and will always remain where appropriate, consultable.

  • The collection and structuring element of ERA involves a range of solutions, from the analogue (a new language-neutral and simple convention of indexing and taxonomy) to the automated identification, collection and structuring of already existent rights and freedoms related records, data assets, laws, regulations, evidence, articles and other materials, which are currently unavailable, inaccessible, or simply lost in the white noise of the net. Among other things, ERA makes possible the incorporation and bridging of already existing silos and repositories in, for instance, civil society, government, journalism, and law and evidence, as well as theoretical and empirical research from academia. This element is to connect to self-hosted, secure human rights workspaces, which will 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.
  • The storage and protection element of ERA is hybrid, but its fundamental layer has been designed to utilise a decentralised distributed file storage system architecture, indexing, curated registries, and advanced cryptography. This storage architecture includes five key characteristics: zero downtime, censorship-resistant storage for the fundamental layer, the ability to establish provenance, the ability to enable curation, and the inclusion of privacy-preserving attribute verification. Election to any tamper-proof layer is via a larger open review layer.
  • The access and navigation element of ERA will make this information available and navigable for the first time 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 to be built upon its open source infrastructure. ERA also offers solutions enabling those within censored regions to access this human rights and freedoms information reliably and securely.

In itself a significant use case for file storage protocol and censorship circumvention, in its initial stage ERA is intended to give visibility, longevity, structure, and efficacy to all human rights information, but the system can obviously be expanded to be compatible with other assets of human, cultural and historic value. The ERA infrastructure is designed so that any number of use cases can be built upon it, several of which have already been conceived — from the preservation of vulnerable cultural assets, and tools that will help governments and corporations reliably develop policies and technologies in line with human rights, to a meaningful basis for rights-based technology governance.

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.