New technology in care: opportunity or threat to older people’s rights?


How to ensure a future where technology is used to advance human rights, not threaten them? The question was raised and discussed with a panel of experts during an event that we organized jointly with the University of Essex Human Rights Centre and the International Longevity Centre UK.

A Digital Cage is Still a Cage” was the title of our joint online event on 23 June 2022 together with the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project at the University of Essex and the International Longevity Centre. The discussions built on the findings of a new research by Neil Crowther and Professor Lorna McGregor, from the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, which explores the opportunities and risks of new and emerging digital technologies and proposes ways to ensure that new and emerging digital technologies advance older people’s human rights.

The 60 participants included experts and representatives from the research, academic and private sectors, and from civil society and the United Nations.

Digital technology in care: Towards a rights-based future?

The new research shows that, although digital technologies can be used to improve social care, they can also adversely impact human rights and contribute to the segregation and isolation of older people. They, therefore, require further careful scrutiny.

Neil Crowther and Lorna McGregor outlined two possible futures arising from the use of new technologies, which depend on whether the objectives are to reduce costs or to improve the lives of older people:

  1. A future of increasingly remote and automated services where we are instrumentalised by new technologies to contain costs and maintain us;
  2. A future in which these technologies become instruments for achieving the best conditions for later life, based on rights, autonomy, dignity, and social connection.

To ensure the right path, we need a rights-based approach in care, taking the needs and interest of older people in their diversity, add the researchers.

Technologies in care should not be used as ways to cut back cost, cut staff, services, etc., and lead to the loss of individual privacy and independence. To avoid that, we need careful monitoring and make sure the provision of care is “back into the hand of the citizens”, highlighted the researchers. It should be made by us, not for us.

This rights-based approach means:

  • addressing digital divide: tackling affordability and accessibility,
  • ensuring autonomy and self-determination: people should have the control and choice over how they want to live their life,
  • ensuring meaningful consent. This requires real transparency by designers and providers on purpose and risks, the right and possibility for users to change their minds and completely reject technologies in the care sector, without any adverse resistance,
  • defining “red lines” for technology using Artificial Intelligence : we need to identify which technologies should not be used in the context of care as they will violate human rights,
  • assessing impact,
  • involving older people directly in the design, development and implementation of the decisions to ensure the diverse needs and interest of older people are taken in account. This process should be monitored by older people themselves.

Technology is a tool that should aim to optimize the potential of older people and respect their self-determination, underlines Donald Macaskill from Scottish Care.

Beware of reinforcing inequalities and ageism

Among the reactions to the report, we can quote Heidrun Mollenkopf, Board member of BAGSO (Germany) and AGE Platform Europe:

We would like to use the technologies that are available but be sure that it is in our benefits and not in our disadvantages.

Mrs Mollenkopf highlighted the risk of increasing inequalities when using technologies given that the conditions (rural areas, skill, equipment…) for digital divide persist and are likely to increase, along with the development of technology.

Dr. Claudia Mahler, UN Independent Expert on the Enjoyment of All Human Rights by Older Persons, warned that digital technologies should not reinforce ageism and age discrimination. One way to prevent that is to address the diversity of older persons and make older people be part of the developing process. She also insisted on the need to adapt the legal framework, as the impact of digitalisation and new and emerging technologies is not really addressed in the current human rights instruments. Mrs Mahler calls for a United Nations Convention on the rights of older persons.

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For further information, you can contact Julia Wadoux,

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