Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Dec 10, 2015
Tagged with: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

December 10th is Human Rights Day, the annual recognition of the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations. As one of the core documents of the UN – among other things, it defines basic things like “human rights” that are frequently referenced elsewhere – the UDHR remains one of the most important documents in the world.

Of course, the advancement of technology has brought up a major concern – how, exactly, do we balance our support of human rights with our desire to help vulnerable groups, such as the children with disabilities supported by NCHPAD? We often say that we intervene “for their own good”, but what does this mean, and where is the limit?

If we truly care about the value of human rights, that’s a question that must be asked – so let’s answer it.

Article 12: Protection from Arbitrary Interference

Article 12 is the most important article for our discussion here today, as it sets forth protections for individuals’ privacy and correspondence. In short, it is the collective opinion of the signatory nations that you should not rummage through others’ messages without their explicit permission.


(The apparent violation of this article was one of the driving forces behind the outcry in Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of national spying, a program that has since been significantly modified.)


So… do we have any legal or moral justification for monitoring the communications of at-risk children, given the potential for human rights violations?


The former is an easy answer – yes. At least in the United States, parents and guardians have the legal right to monitor the communications of their underage children, with or without that child’s permission. This is especially true when parents and guardians are paying for that communication to happen (household internet, smartphone data plans, etc.)


The latter? That’s a little more difficult. In our own society, though, the prevailing view is that security trumps privacy when children are involved, including children with disabilities, who could be even more vulnerable.


At its core, then, we tend to monitor our children because we want to help them – and, ideally, allow them to grow up into independent adults who no longer need to be monitored. This isn’t monitoring without a real threat, either – cyberbullying is a real problem, including children with disabilities, in which there could be limited skills to shrug off digital attacks or avoid posting things that could come back to haunt them.


So, Where Is The Limit?

It’s not always easy to decide just how much observation of children to do. However, by checking a given monitoring action against the following criteria, we can figure out whether or not it’s broadly appropriate.


  • Is there a real problem knowing this information could help stop?
    • There doesn’t need to be an immediate problem, but it does need to be a real one.
  • Is the child mature enough to handle the issue and react appropriately?
    • Children as a whole have yet to finish developing, and in many cases, they do not have good decision-making skills. Even many responsible children make poor decisions every now and then, so ultimately, this is a judgment call you’ll have to make.
  • What options are there for resolving this issue?
    • The goal isn’t just to protect children – it’s to help raise them to the point they can protect themselves. Monitoring is often the most effective way of resolving digital problems, but it’s not the only one.
  • Is the child aware that they are being monitored?
    • While parents are not required to tell children that they are being monitored, it’s usually more effective at keeping them out of trouble. This is similar to the way that children are generally monitored at the pool, on the playground, or in any other area that they could be in danger – and knowing they’re being watched often stops them from doing things that could get them into trouble.



Making sure we don’t violate human rights is a challenge – and not just because it’s often done with the best of intentions. Everyone deserves a dignified existence, though, and we are committed to upholding that in everything we do.

Author: Mark Kirkpatrick