Quantum Computers: Ethical Dilemmas and Human Rights Challenges


The landscape of computing is undergoing a transformative shift with the advent of quantum computers – devices harnessing the principles of quantum physics to revolutionize data storage and computation. Quantum computers employ qubits, subatomic particles such as photons or electrons, to execute computations that were once deemed unimaginable. This unique attribute enables them to develop intricate models of atomic interactions, yielding a level of precision and understanding that was previously unattainable. Outpacing their classical counterparts in speed and capacity, quantum computers possess the power to perform parallel calculations, potentially unlocking solutions to previously unsolvable problems.

The rapid advancement and prominence of quantum computing have led to a confluence of ethical dilemmas and complexities, prompting a critical examination of their implications for human rights. In this context, privacy, freedom of expression, and non-discrimination issues gain particular relevance. As these sophisticated technologies continue to evolve, it is imperative to confront the ethical uncertainties and adverse consequences that may arise,  in order to safeguard the rights and liberties of individuals within the digital domain.

This paper delves into the intricate intersection of quantum computing, ethical considerations, and human rights challenges. By exploring the evolving technological landscape, the paper seeks to elucidate the potential risks of quantum computing’s rise and underscore the paramount importance of maintaining a balance between technological advancement and preserving individual rights. The paper also discusses the ethical dimensions and potential perils of quantum computing to pave the way for proactive measures to uphold human rights in a dynamic digital era.

Quantum Computing Principles

Quantum superposition suggests that a quantum particle exists in two different locations at the same time. The principle also states that if a physical system is in one of the various configurations, the most general state is an amalgamation of all these possibilities. On the other hand, quantum entanglement explains how two subatomic particles can be intimately connected to each other. In addition, quantum entanglement occurs when a system is within a superposition of more than a single state. For qubits, they allow particles to exist in more than a single state at the same time.

These principles differ from classical computing in the sense that classical computers deploy a stream of electrical impulses in a binary manner to encode information within bits. This constrains their processing capacity, unlike quantum computing. Thus, quantum computing can solve complex problems that classical computers find computationally infeasible, making it a significant game-changer within fields such as optimization, simulation, and cryptography. In addition, the ability of qubits to exist in superpositions enables simultaneous computation and the capacity to manage large quantities of data more efficiently.

As quantum computing and artificial intelligence continue advancing, their convergence has enormous capabilities. For instance, quantum machine learning leverages quantum computing’s computational power to improve AI algorithms, resulting in breakthroughs in pattern simulations, optimization, and recognition.

Ethical Dilemmas and Human Rights Issues

Notably, as the potential of quantum computing continues to grow, the awareness of the ethical dilemmas it presents also increases. The central ethical dilemma is the likelihood of its abuse. Due to their ability to process large quantities of information quickly, they could be used for gaining access to sensitive data, disrupting global economies, creating weapons of mass destruction, or developing algorithms that can target and discriminate against minority groups or communities.

It can also be used for spreading propaganda or false information, thus affecting public discourse and democracy. More critically, quantum computers could be deployed to create more advanced forms of AI than the existing ones. This could profoundly impact human life and result in various ethical dilemmas.

Another significant concern revolves around its potential to compromise security systems. Quantum computers possess greater computational power compared to traditional computers, which could make them capable of deciphering passwords, gaining access to sensitive data, and cracking widely used cryptographic schemes such as RSA. This capability presents a considerable medium-term challenge to data security, as it could enhance the efficiency of attacks on cryptographic systems. This heightened threat could undermine the confidentiality of critical information, encompassing personal and financial data.

Additionally, the emergence of quantum computing could trigger ethical considerations related to employment. As quantum computing advances, it can potentially replace human labor in specific sectors, leading to job displacement. This shift may have adverse effects on individuals and contribute to societal inequality.

Also, the rapid processing of multiple possibilities poses significant implications for data privacy. The ability to conduct rapid brute-force attacks could compromise even the most advanced encryption methods.

According to the Eurosmart digital security industry group, quantum computers could compromise the security of biometric identification documents and apps globally. eMRTDs or documents with secure chips with the holder’s information, including NFC-enabled national ID cards and passports, have chips with biographical and biometric data that can be compromised. Such documents depend on asymmetric cryptography that quantum computers can easily break by reverting from the public to the private key. It is possible that the potential decryption of such data can provide attackers with access to individuals’ biographical and biometric data. This could adversely affect data since all IT security depends on asymmetric cryptography.

Attackers could attempt and capture encrypted data from eMRTDs and store it until quantum machines become available to decrypt it. Whereas this may not be disastrous for certain forms of dynamic and ever-changing data, it could pose grave ramifications for static biometric data, including iris patterns and fingerprints.

Surveillance and Control in the Quantum Computing Era

Mass surveillance entails a systematic interference with the right to privacy together with other rights enabled by privacy, including the freedom to protest and express oneself. Mass surveillance is tantamount to indiscriminate surveillance. Systematic monitoring of people’s lives enables states to have unchecked state power and assert control over citizens.

At the same time, mass surveillance negatively impacts other human freedoms and rights. Unjustified interferences with privacy deter the enjoyment of other rights, and they usually pave the way for the violation of other human rights, including freedom of expression, political participation, freedom of assembly, freedom of movement, and the principle of non-discrimination. As a class of technologies, quantum sensing poses substantial privacy ramifications. They can infiltrate spaces that conventional sensors cannot access.

While numerous articles identify the advantages of quantum computing, only a few address the implication of encryption – a major contributor to data confidentiality today. This poses challenges to the potential for data breaches and unauthorized access to personal information. With a lot of data being collected and processed at the same time, there is a risk that it could end up in the wrong hands.

Some experts have already predicted that within years’ time, hostile nation-states and hackers could use quantum computers to break existing encryption protocols. This would be a major blow to various internet services, including electronic commerce and other financial transactions, which depend on encryption.

Furthermore, mass surveillance can harm expression. Undue interference with individuals’ privacy can, directly and indirectly, constrain the free exchange and development of ideas. For instance, restrictions of anonymity in communication have an evident chilling impact on victims of all forms of abuse and violence, who can be reluctant to report since they fear double victimization. It is also worth noting that the harmful impacts of surveillance on association and expression are undeniably connected – the right to organize is essential for the advancement of ideas and political expression.

The danger associated with metadata is that it enables the surveiller to map people’s activities and networks, making them think twice before communicating with a certain individual or group. This can pose profound ramifications in a surveillance state.

For example, in Uganda, there is an ongoing legal crackdown on LGBTQ+ activists. Under mass surveillance, a gay youth-seeking community faces substantial risks just for basically sending an email or making a phone call. Thus, quantum computing may provide expanded surveillance capabilities that may pose dangers to privacy, the freedom of speech and make it difficult to safeguard people and communities against government overreach.

Safeguarding Civil Liberties

Civil liberties encompass the freedoms and rights afforded to individuals in a society. These freedoms include privacy, due process, protection against unreasonable seizures and searches, and the freedom of speech. They are enshrined in many international declarations, human rights treaties, and national constitutions.

Ideally, civil liberties lay the foundation for democratic societies, ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights, equality, and autonomy. Striking the balance between national security and preserving civil liberties is difficult for several reasons. For example, balancing civil liberties and national security needs a comprehensive understanding of risks associated with various threats. In addition, security measures should be necessary and proportional in relation to the identified threats.

While technological advancement enables governments to improve surveillance capabilities to detect and thwart threats, extensive surveillance measures lead to privacy violations and the potential for power abuse.

The proliferation of quantum computing apps could significantly expand states’ toolkit for social control and repression, aggravating human rights issues. Repressive regimes could deploy and use them for their strategic advantage.

Surveillance of digital information exchange can offer intelligence that enables governments to use more targeted repression forms, especially within areas that the regime does not fully control. Increasing restrictions on access to the internet can impede opposition organizations, limit access to information, and lead to higher untargeted repression. This can pose deleterious ramifications by impeding the freedom of association, assembly, and dissent.

Threats to Democratic Systems

Quantum computing will compel society to rethink the critical paradigms of digital security. Notably, known quantum computer attacks, which are only waiting for the appearance of an actual quantum computer, will break much of the cryptography in use. This crypto underpins the security of everything from communications to online banking transactions, driverless cars, and elections. Thus, the absence of this fundamental digital trust will make democracy vulnerable.

Internet voting (i-voting) systems have been heralded as game-changers for democratic processes. These systems provide more accurate and rapid vote counts and guarantee the anonymity of voters’ choices by encrypting voters’ choices. However, quantum computing may pose various risks to democratic processes if advances in quantum decryption outpace quantum encryption advances.

For example, an adversary with quantum decryption abilities could theoretically access encrypted information easily, making it easy to exploit voting infrastructure. This implies that quantum computers could be used for electoral manipulation and undermining democratic institutions.

Furthermore, quantum computing will alter the digital landscape far beyond what has ever been imagined, hence revolutionizing disinformation and making it a more challenging and complex problem to address. Shor’s quantum prime factorization algorithm can consider prime numbers exponentially faster compared to the current algorithms, rendering asymmetric encryption effectively useless. This can enable access to any encrypted system.

More critically, this can be used to plant disinformation in trustworthy news sources by altering content within articles after they have been published. At the same time, on an institutional level, quantum computing can be used to ruin the public opinion of trustworthy sources. This can be achieved by consistent publication of false content from these sources, thus limiting the spread of accurate information.

It should be noted that China will be a key actor in the quantum computing field going into the future. As a semi-authoritarian country already deploying AI in oppressive ways, including the racial profiling of Uighurs, China has raised funding significantly for the AI industry and may catch up with the US and UK in AI innovation within five years. While Russia has invested less in these areas, it has engaged significantly in disinformation campaigns, and could deploy quantum computing technology to enhance these campaigns.

The implication is that such global powers’ unethical use of quantum computing will have dire repercussions; it is already challenging to address disinformation, and such emerging technologies will only make it even more difficult. This poses detrimental challenges in ensuring fair, secure, and transparent elections in the face of such evolving technologies.

Discrimination and Biased Decision-Making

Quantum computing systems can perpetuate existing discrimination and biases if not carefully designed and monitored. There is a lack of certainty on whether quantum computers will have a better understanding of ethics, thus making them vulnerable to ethical bias. The lack of representative and diverse data may make it difficult for these systems to represent the whole population.

A specific example is the “brogrammer” problem that engrains decisions made by a predominantly white, male, privileged pool of engineers and designers into the designed technology, and thus reflects their world view. Datasets used to train technology can reproduce the biases of dominant power structures, such as racism and sexism, which can perpetuate systems of oppression for marginalized and racialized groups.

In addition, the absence of bias detection and mitigation techniques during the development stage may exacerbate existing biases. The other issue that has been noted is the lack of explainability and transparency that can allow users to comprehend how decision-making is done. Quantum computers, particularly quantum machine learning, present the ultimate black box problem. Deep learning neural networks tend to be notoriously opaque. Such a lack of transparency makes it difficult to identify and address potential biases.

Bias in quantum machine learning algorithms can result in unfair outcomes, including discrimination against certain individuals or groups. Bias can be introduced by the data used for training the algorithm or the algorithm. Human operators of the algorithm can also introduce bias. In all these cases, bias can result in unfair outcomes, including incorrect decisions or inaccurate predictions.

Quantum computing also has the potential to facilitate automated decision-making processes that are more efficient and accurate than traditional methods. However, quantum computing has potential ethical implications in automated decision-making. For instance, quantum computing algorithms can be biased towards certain outcomes or susceptible to manipulation, hence negatively impacting hiring, lending, and criminal justice decisions/outcomes.

Digital Divide and Inequality

The digital divide is defined as the gap between those who have and those who lack access to the Internet and computers. It is measured in terms of availability, affordability, quality of service, relevance, security, digital literacy, access to equipment, and interconnectivity. In 2019, 54.8% of the households globally had an internet connection, a rise from 53.1% in 2018, as revealed by data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). According to the UN’s Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, about 3.6 billion people are entirely unconnected to the Internet, implying that there are about 4.1 billion people online, representing about 53.6% of the world population.

There is a possibility that quantum computing could lead to differential growth among sectors, which could in turn lead to income inequality and a wider gap between the poor and the rich. The digital divide encompasses some factors that deter access to technology and its benefits. It manifests as a disparity in digital literacy, hardware availability, affordability, and internet connectivity. Whereas developed countries enjoy widespread access to digital resources, marginalized communities struggle to access them. Thus, the digital divide perpetuates socioeconomic inequalities, limiting opportunities and hindering progress for communities and individuals.

Quantum computing needs sophisticated infrastructure, such as specialized hardware and a stable environment for maintaining qubits. Underserved communities and developing states may grapple with barriers in acquiring and maintaining such infrastructure, hence exacerbating the digital divide. Unequal access also limits educational and employment opportunities, and quantum technology will further aggravate this inequality. As a result, there will be reduced participation in the digital economy.

An individual should be able to connect for their social and cultural capital to be achieved, and for them to attain mass economic gains within productivity. Thus, access is an important condition for overcoming the digital divide.

Quantum Computing on Warfare 

While quantum computing can solve complex issues in society today, it will be equally able to be leveraged maliciously by nation-states within warfare. In the current technological age, there are various ways through which a state can attack another. The attack can be through political, economic, or military methods and cyber operations.

Because of technological advancement and the rise in innovation, cyberspace is another battlefield of boundless threats. Cyber warfare (the use of technology against another state) poses detrimental risks to humanity’s security. In addition, quantum computing can use quantum to make warfare deadlier. This means that quantum technology poses more threat since, in theory, a single quantum computer would be more powerful than all supercomputers that exist in the world today. In other words, quantum computing could significantly disrupt the balance of power and reshape the traditional notions of warfare.

Many observers and analysts have raised concerns regarding the impacts of a technology-driven arms race. They argue that military cyber advancements could undercut strategic stability by impairing adversary nuclear command and control systems. This could lead to increased global tensions, escalation of conflicts, and potential violation of human rights, including the right to life, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and property right.

The global arms control regime is under unprecedented pressure because of heightened rivalry between major powers, emerging technologies, and a rapidly deteriorating security environment. Thus, cooperation on arms control is significant in the current contested geopolitical environment since it can deter the proliferation of advanced weaponry and minimize the risk of unintended military escalation.

International cooperation, disarmament efforts, and efforts geared toward peace and stability could be instrumental in mitigating the negative impacts associated with emerging technologies.

Environmental Impact of Quantum Computing

By certain estimations, quantum computing can reduce energy consumption from 100-1000 times using its quantum tunneling for processing data. Thus, it is sensical to assume that the quantum computer will need less energy compared to the traditional computer.

Notwithstanding, there is a requirement of quantum computing that requires a lot of energy – refrigeration. The quantum processor should be maintained at a very low temperature, about 15 millikelvins (-273° C), to function. To contextualize this, 15 millikelvin is colder compared to interstellar space. Such a level of low temperature is needed to enhance superconducting in the processor, and with superconducting, the electricity can be transmitted through the processor without resistance.

Whereas superconducting reduces the quantity of energy required for processing, relying on only a fraction of what is used by traditional computers, it needs a lot of energy to ensure it’s cool.

The quantum processor requires substantially less energy to work but requires substantially more energy to power the refrigeration unit, which is not required by traditional computers. This continues to elicit concerns regarding quantum computing’s overall energy efficiency.

The high energy consumption of quantum computers and their cooling infrastructure pose deleterious environmental impacts that could reverse the sustainability progress made. This technology can significantly raise greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in case it is not deployed in an energy-efficient way, which could aggravate the already dire climate crisis.


At the same time, the production and disposal of quantum computers’ e-waste is a rising environmental concern. Addressing the e-waste issue is a critical element of sustainable quantum technology.

Quantum computing depends on complex hardware components that can be costly and difficult to dispose of or recycle safely. With the demand for quantum computing systems growing, the amount of e-waste generated also rises, with potentially deleterious health and environmental impacts. E-waste may have toxic materials and chemicals, resulting in environmental pollution and damage. This further aggravates the environmental effect of quantum computing and demonstrates the importance of more sustainable approaches to the deployment and design of its infrastructure.

Sustainable Practices and Mitigation Strategies

As quantum computing continues to transform industries; there is a surging need to ensure that its rollout and deployment are environmentally responsible and sustainable. Sustainable quantum computing solutions hold great promise for minimizing energy consumption, tackling pressing environmental challenges, and maximizing resource use. However, they can also pose unintended consequences that should be carefully considered.

Identifying sources of inefficiency and waste in infrastructure and product development can ensure that sustainable quantum computing minimizes its environmental impact. There are already efforts geared towards using more green energy in quantum infrastructure, with organizations utilizing renewable energy sources to power their data centers and other similar infrastructure.

Efforts are underway towards reducing the carbon footprint of quantum computing. Some of the initiatives include the use of more energy-efficient software and hardware solutions, including more efficient algorithms and low-power processors. In addition, algorithms can be optimized to reduce computational complexity and energy consumption – as a potential mitigation strategy. It also entails the development of more sustainable data center infrastructure, including the use of renewable sources of energy to power these facilities.

Sustainable practices, such as energy-efficient hardware designs and cutting-edge measures, can help to enhance the quantum computing sector and minimize its carbon footprint. This includes the design of specific chips that use less power and the optimization of software for reducing energy consumption.


As the potential of quantum computing continues to grow, the awareness of the ethical dilemmas it presents also continues increasing. Similar to other technologies, it is likely to be abused for spreading propaganda, decrypting data, infringing on privacy, use as a weapon of mass destruction, targeting minority communities, breaching security systems, mass surveillance, and personal rights infringement.

The use of quantum computing to drive innovation and solve complex issues should be done with a long-term perspective that considers the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of these actions. A long-term approach to sustainable quantum computing requires a significant shift in the way innovation is approached. This shift should value community-driven and collaborative problem-solving over narrow technological advances.

To create quantum computing systems that are truly sustainable, it is important to enhance the collaboration of experts from various fields to co-create solutions that are socially responsible, technically advanced, and environmentally sustainable for future generations. Such collaboration can help to ensure that sustainable quantum computing solutions are developed with a better understanding of the complex environmental and social issues that they intend to address.

Finally, embracing responsible development, public awareness, and regulation is important to mitigate the various challenges. The unintended repercussions of quantum computing solutions should be considered. Similar to any technology, there is a risk that quantum computing could aggravate existing social or environmental challenges if it is not well developed and responsibly deployed. It is crucial to anticipate the ethical and human rights challenges associated with algorithmic decision-making by carefully factoring in potential scenarios and embracing proactive measures for addressing the negative effects.