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UN Reports on Surveillance Software and Human Rights

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The Citizen Lab, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto, has commented on two reports issued by United Nations Special Rapporteurs “that demonstrate the dangerous effects of unchecked technology in the hands of autocrats”: one relating to the proliferation and abuse of surveillance software and one that investigates the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “Both reports highlight the danger of unaccountable and unregulated surveillance technology sold to countries with egregious human rights records.” In the first, special rapporteur, David Kaye, calls for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of the tools of the private surveillance industry. Governments have access to a diverse and powerful toolkit of surveillance tools. For example, network monitoring technologies, like deep-packet inspection, can be used to gather detailed information about citizens’ online and offline behaviour. Commercial spyware, such as NSO Group’s Pegasus, can allow an operator to surreptitiously activate a target phone’s camera and microphone, turning the device into a ready-to-deploy spy. The report makes it clear that states have a duty to uphold and protect the human rights of citizens from targeted surveillance facilitated by these technologies. “Calling for a full-scale moratorium is a dramatic step, and underscores the scale of the harms caused by the global proliferation of surveillance technologies and the complete lack of effective mechanisms to prevent such harm or remedies where they arise.” In the other report, special rapporteur Agnès Callamard was tasked with investigating the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “Deeply ingrained in this case of international murder is the exploitation of powerful spyware technologies. In line with Kaye, Callamard endorses the full suspension of spyware technologies sold to Saudi Arabia until proper protections can be implemented.” Read more

UN Reports on Surveillance Software and Human Rights

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