Chancellor of Justice and IOI Board member Ülle Madise: Welcome speech at the workshop on Human Rights in the Digital Age

23 January 2018, Tallinn


Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends and colleagues,

I am extremely pleased to welcome You all in Tallinn, in the same building that hosted all the most important meetings during the Estonia´s European Union Presidency last autumn.

This industrial building, a cauldron section of the former power station, was built in 1913. And deserted to decay 40 years ago as out of date and therefore useless.

Now, after renovation, this is a hub for innovative ideas, the mixture of technology, culture, design, start-up enterprises, politics and human rights. Future is here. We are here. And during the next 2 days we are – at least I hope so – going to peek into the future and discuss our role in securing that human being governs technology and not vice versa.

Some years ago it was widely discussed, that Internet was going to change and ruin everything. Now we have somewhat calmed down.

The most important thing we have to realize, is that we have to know and get accustomed to new digital environment. It is really like darwinism: you either adapt and change … or die. Not literally die, of course, but really get left behind, out-dated and useless. Just like this old cauldron hall for producing electricity.   

Dear fellow ombuds-people from all around the world,

I know, we all have cases where there is a conflict between human rights and technology.

Let´s take for example the so-called right to be forgotten: to have your personal data and your cyber-identity erased from internet if you´d wished so. Formerly we knew this as a right for privacy. But what then about the rights of a former criminal? In the “good old” days his or her criminal record was erased when certain period of time had passed since the crime and punishment. But now? You only have to google, and … it seems, that in the digital world you are convicted for life for every crime and even misdemeanor, because the news about the case and its details remain in the Web, accessible to everybody.     

On the other hand, governments publish a huge amount of data, incl personal data. Are these data correct? I have seen, not always.

Is the government able to protect sensitive data, f.e health records? Here, in Estonia we have a success story called e-Health. A database what contains all health records, makes it possible to digitally prescribe drugs and change information between health service providers.



Dear Colleagues, 

together with Data Protection Agency we managed to stop the insurance companies´ lobbying efforts. They wanted to get direct access to the health records.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

a great challenge for everybody and especially for us is to find an answer to this: is life outside and without internet even possible any more? I am not talking about cyber accidents or cyber war which cuts down electric grids, stops the trains and blocks bank transactions. I bear in mind people who prefer and want to live in real and not in digital world. To pay with cash, to read a book printed on paper, to visit a human doctor, to meet a living politician instead of his/her carefully cultivated image in Facebook etc.

Again, on the other hand: schoolboys and -girls have asked me, whether the teacher has the right to prohibit the use of smartphones at schools during the lessons? They claim 24-hour online presence is their fundamental human right!

And what about elderly people? Do they have access to the Internet? We do not know because Eurostat and the national data agencies do not collect any information about it. We all hope that the life will be longer, healthier and happier, many work outside of home until the age over 80. They must declare taxes … in many countries online.

It is also our task – and not only of software developers and multinational corporations – to find ways to make digital environment more useful for everybody. For elderly and sick, for minorities and poor.

I, personally, sincerely believe, that when we talk about the balance between human rights and digital development, then the human, the individual must always come first.

  • A human being should never fall victim to digitalization or to the efficiency it provides.
  • Our basic need for privacy must always be protected and guaranteed.
  • Indeed, our brain needs to preserve the ability to compute and navigate. All the wonderful applications in our smartphones should help us, but not guide our decisions.

Well, I do hope, that during the following two days we are going to discuss all these important and intricate matters; provide examples from our everyday work and find some common ground, which will help us define the state of affairs of human rights in the digital age.

And now - let´s start!