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UK: UN experts urge review of surveillance bill threatening freedom of expression

GENEVA (11 January 2016) – The United Kingdom’s draft Investigatory Powers bill could, if adopted in its present form, threaten the rights to freedoms of expression and association both inside and outside the country, a group of United Nations human rights experts warned.

The draft legislation, which is currently being examined by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, aims to unify the various regulations governing how the UK surveillance agencies, police and other authorities can monitor suspects.

Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai, and Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst expressed serious concerns about several provisions of the draft Bill.

They highlighted that these contain excessively broad definitions and disproportionate procedures to authorise surveillance, including mass surveillance, and data retention without adequate independent oversight and transparency.

“The lack of transparency could prevent individuals from ever knowing they are subject to such surveillance,” the experts noted in a six-page submission* to the Joint Parliamentary Committee. “This will ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms and exert a deterrent effect on the legitimate exercise of these rights and the work of civil society and human rights defenders.”

Stressing the potential for human rights violations, the Special Rapporteurs called for a comprehensive review of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill “to ensure its compliance with international human rights law and standards.”

(*) See the UN experts’ submission to the Joint Committee on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Opinion/Submission_UN_Special_RapporteursJan2016.pdf

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

For more information, visit:
Freedom of expression: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/FreedomOpinion/Pages/OpinionIndex.aspx
Freedom of peaceful assembly and of association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
Human Rights Defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, Country Page – United Kingdom: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/GBIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Victoria Kuhn (+41 22 917 9278 / vkuhn@ohchr.org) or write to freedex@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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