Counter-terrorism ‘rhetoric’ used to justify the rise of surveillance technology: human rights expert


In a report for the last session of the Human Rights Council, 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 risky technologies”, according to a press release from the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

This includes drones, biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI) and spyware, which are ramped up in the ongoing fight against terrorism, without due regard for the rule of law, governance and human rights, she said.

The exception becomes the norm

“Exceptional justifications for using surveillance technologies in human rights ‘light’ counter-terrorism often turns into everyday, regular use”, said Ms Ní Aoláin, pointing to the impact on fundamental rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to privacy.

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

The independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council expressed concern about the growth domestication of the use of drones in several countries, the widespread misuse of spyware technology against civil society groups, dissidents and journalistsand the increasing acceptance of biometric data collection.

There must be an end to ‘irregular transfers’

“The unregulated transfer of risky technologies to states engaged in There must be an end to systematic human rights violations‘ said the Special Rapporteur. She urged the authorities to regulate the companies involved more effectively in the transfer of surveillance technologies abroad.

UN photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the fight against terrorism.

“Without regulation, human rights costs can only increase with no end in sight,” said Ms Ní Aoláin.

Global ban on ‘killer robots’

She joined the call for a global ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems and stressed the specific obligations of the various UN counter-terrorism bodies to ensure that all guidance and advice on new technologies is fully in line with the UN Charter and international law.

Instead, in her new report, she presented to the Council a new and innovative approach to regulating spyware, which would aim to ensure that “minimum human rights standards” are applied, by both governments and companies, in the development, use and the transfer of high-performance risk monitoring technologies.

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