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Alarming misuse of high-risk technologies in global fight against terrorism says UN expert

14 March 2023

GENEVA (14 March 2023) – States and private actors are using counter-terrorism and security rhetoric to justify and accelerate the deployment and transfer of new high-risk surveillance technologies, without regulation, and at an enormous cost to human rights, a UN expert said today.

In a report to the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, warned of an alarming increase in the use of intrusive and high-risk technologies – including drones, biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI) and spyware – in the global fight against terrorism, without due regard for the rule of law, governance and human rights.

“Exceptional justifications for the use of surveillance technologies in human rights 'lite' counter-terrorism often turn into mundane regular use,” said Ní Aoláin, pointing to the impact on fundamental rights such as family life, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy.

“There must be a pause in the use of intrusive high-risk technologies until adequate safeguards are in place,” she said.

The expert expressed concern about the growing domestication of the use of drones in several countries, the widespread misuse of spyware technology against civil society actors, dissidents and journalists, and the global adoption of biometric data collection.

“The unregulated transfer of high-risk technologies to States engaging in systematic human rights violations must end,” the Special Rapporteur said. She urged authorities to effectively regulate companies involved in the transfer of surveillance technologies abroad.

“In the absence of regulation, the cost to human rights can only increase with no end in sight,” Ní Aoláin said. She joined the call for a global ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems and highlighted the specific obligations of UN counter-terrorism bodies to ensure that any guidance and advice provided on new technologies is fully consistent with the UN Charter and international law norms and principles.

The expert presented a new and innovative approach to spyware regulation, focusing on ensuring that minimum human rights standards are applied by both governments and companies in the development, use and transfer of high-risk surveillance technologies.


*The expert: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

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.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Karen Reyes Tolosa ([email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts

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