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UN expert calls for immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance tools

25 June 2019

GENEVA (25 June 2019) ‑ The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, today called for an immediate moratorium on the sale, transfer and use of surveillance technology until human rights-compliant regulatory frameworks are in place. He makes the recommendations in his latest report to the Human Rights Council on the surveillance industry and its interference with human rights.

“Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly, religious belief, non-discrimination, and public participation. And yet they are not subject to any effective global or national control,” the Special Rapporteur said.

Kaye gave examples of computer intrusions, mobile device hacking, network intrusion, facial recognition surveillance and other highly sophisticated surveillance tools that have been used by States and other actors to monitor journalists, politicians, UN investigators and human rights advocates.

The report urges States to adopt domestic safeguards in accordance with international human rights law to protect individuals from unlawful surveillance. In particular, he urges development of public mechanisms for approval and oversight of surveillance technologies; strengthening of export controls; and assurance of legal tools of redress.

“States are not alone in their responsibilities,” the Special Rapporteur added. “Companies appear to be operating without constraint. It is critical that companies themselves adhere to their human rights responsibilities, including by disclosing their transfers, conducting rigorous human rights impact assessments, and avoiding transfers to States unable to guarantee their compliance with their human rights obligations.”

Given the current lack of an effective regulatory framework on the use of surveillance technologies to mitigate and remedy the harms they can cause, Kaye added, “it is imperative that States limit the uses of such technologies to lawful ones only, subjected to the strictest sorts of oversight and authorisation, and that States condition export of such technologies on the strictest human rights due diligence”.

“The private surveillance industry is a free-for-all,” Kaye noted, “an environment in which States and industry are collaborating in the spread of technology that is causing immediate and regular harm to individuals and organisations that are essential to democratic life – journalists, activists, opposition figures, lawyers, and others.

“It is time for governments and companies to recognise their responsibilities,” Kaye concluded, “and impose rigorous requirements on this industry, with the goal of protecting human rights for all.”


Mr David Kaye,Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The Independent Experts 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 independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council 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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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