GENEVA (23 May 2019) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, is very seriously concerned by reports that the Government of Ecuador is planning to hand over personal belongings of Julian Assange to the United States.
The independent expert said he had received information that, at the request of the United States Department of Justice, the Ecuadorian Government had decided to search on 20 May its London embassy premises used by the WikiLeaks founder and seize his documents, telephones, electronic devices, memory drives, etc., to hand them over to the US Government.
Concerned by the reports, Cannataci wrote to the Government of Ecuador recommending safeguards that should be in place before any search. He also offered to provide the assistance of impartial experts to monitor the search, and separate information that could be relevant for an eventual criminal process in the United States from information that should be kept private and handed back to Assange. The Special Rapporteur said he was disappointed by the lack of timely response from the Government of Ecuador.
"I have twice formally requested the Government of Ecuador to return Mr. Assange's personal effects to his lawyers, but instead it seems that it intends to hand them over to the US authorities. While I have no problem with search and seizure procedures which are properly carried out under the rule of law, these are very special circumstances on at least two counts: there is more than the right to privacy at stake. Other human rights and especially the freedom of expression are also at risk if some of Mr. Assange's material were to fall into the wrong hands. Mr. Assange dealt with a number of confidential sources and whistleblowers whose identity and privacy should likewise be protected,” said the Special Rapporteur.
"I am also disappointed by Ecuador’s lack of timely response to my proposal to visit Quito and further assess the complaint I received from President Lenin Moreno concerning a violation of his right to privacy, related to the alleged hacking that led to the online release of a large number of his communications and private photographs of him and his family.” Cannataci said the visit would have been “an excellent opportunity for me to better understand the particularities of the case”.
The Special Rapporteur said he hoped to get a response soon to his concerns and proposals for cooperation.
Mr. Joseph Cannataci (Malta) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy by the Human Rights Council in July 2015, with his mandate being renewed in 2018 until July 2021. He is an academic who has had a pioneering role in the development of data protection, privacy law and technology law. A UK Chartered Information Technology Professional & Fellow of the British Computer Society, he also continues to act as Expert Consultant to a number of international organisations.
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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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