Law Course: Human Rights, Corporate Responsibility, and ICTs

Visiting Affiliate at the Center for Global Communication Studies Rebecca MacKinnon will be lecturing this fall at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Registration is now open for Law 987011- Human Rights, Corporate Responsibility, and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

The course will be held once a week on Thursdays from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. Graduate students from across the university are welcome to register; the course will be very cross- disciplinary.

How can Information Communications Technology (ICT) companies meet their responsibility to respect human rights around the world in the face of national laws, regulations, and law enforcement demands related to surveillance and censorship that often contradict international human rights law? This research seminar examines such cutting-edge questions – from an analytical as well as a practice-oriented perspective – at the intersection of emerging communications technologies, national law, international human rights law, and corporate responsibility.  New information and communications technologies like the Internet and mobile devices can connect and empower people in unprecedented ways. Yet companies’ business practices, engineering and design decisions, and government relationships can also result in serious violations of citizens’ right to free expression, assembly, and privacy by governments as well as private commercial entities. International human rights norms related to this problem are only just emerging, but what do they mean in practice for individual companies operating in specific markets?
Adjunct lecturers Cynthia Wong (Human Rights Watch) and Rebecca MacKinnon (Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation and Visiting Affiliate at Annenberg’s Center for Global Communications Studies) are both active practitioners in the field of ICTs, human rights, and corporate responsibility. The seminar will be open to graduate students from across the university. The first several weeks will be devoted to readings and discussions of core concepts, followed by exploration of specific case studies. Students will conduct in-depth research projects focused on specific companies operating in specific markets, examining difficult questions of how these companies can uphold their human rights obligations in the face of commercial pressures and government demands that contradict international human rights law.  Research conducted for this course will be considered for publication in conjunction with a university-wide cross disciplinary project that seeks to develop and refine a methodology for comparing and ultimately ranking ICT companies on free expression and privacy criteria. (For more information about that project see

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