Digital Dead Body Management (DDBM): Time to Think it Through

Journal article

Sandvik, Kristin Bergtora (2020) Digital Dead Body Management (DDBM): Time to Think it Through, Journal of Human Rights Practice. DOI: 10.1093/jhuman/huaa002.

Read the article here (Open Access)

Effective, safe and dignified dead body management (DBM) in the context of disasters, atrocities and wars has long been an important task—primarily for the humanitarian sector, but also for the human rights and international criminal justice community. How will the digitization of the human rights field and the adjacent spheres of humanitarian action and international criminal justice reshape ideas about death and the practices of care and control of the dead in the international space? To approach that question, the article coins the term ‘digital dead body management’ (DDBM) and offers an initial framing of this concept and some tentative pointers for a human rights research agenda. It focuses on the concept of ‘digital bodies’. Noting that the management of digital identities after death is becoming a significant governance challenge for the global technology sector, with thousands of ghost-accounts appearing every day, the article discusses the structural difference between how ‘digital deaths’ are dealt with in emergencies and in the marketplace, with a focus on DDBM as a problem of global equality. The article contributes to the critical conceptualization of DDBM by mapping a set of the tensions existing between the norms, objectives and operational approaches of humanitarian, human rights and international criminal justice practices and reflecting on where normative perils might arise in the context of digitization.

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