Five Eyes’ surveillance under fire by U.N. Human Rights Committee

Last week was a busy one for the U.N. Human Rights Committee. It graded the United States on its surveillance practices (hint: the U.S. probably should not hang this report card on the fridge). It also issued “concluding observations” for seven countries on human rights, including “Five Eyes” members Canada and the United Kingdom. In the conclusions the Committee strongly condemned the use of surveillance as a violation of the right to privacy.

The U.S. report card

Access, along with partners at the Brennan Center for Justice and Amnesty International, made asubmission to the U.N. Human Rights Committee responding to the follow-up to the recommendationsthe Committee had made to the U.S. on how to curb the unlawful surveillance conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The Committee’s mid-term review of the implementation of its recommendations is done using a report card format. It is easy to see that the Committee was nonplussed with the poor implementation by the U.S. For each of its five recommendations, the U.S. performed as follows: C,C,C,C, and D. Earning a C means that the U.S. response or reply was deemed unsatisfactory; the D grade means that the U.S. offered no cooperation whatsoever.

The Brennan Center for Justice has analysis of the grades, as does The Intercept here.

Concluding observations for seven countries

 The Committee also published responses to government reports by Canada, France, Macedonia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela. In these responses, the Committee underscored key principles for government surveillance that we at Access share. These include that:

  • Any interference with communications, as well as retention of data, must respect the principles of legality, proportionality, and necessity.
  • Governments should not treat individuals differently when it comes to their fundamental human rights, regardless of their nationality.
  • Governments that have conducted unlawful surveillance need to notify the victims and provide adequate channels for remedy.

On the United Kingdom, which is not in the habit of applying human rights to its surveillance practices, the Committee took note of the reports that Amnesty International’s email communication had been intercepted under a general warrant, and expressed concern over the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act’s (RIPA) untargeted warrants for “external” private communication. It also expressed concern over how Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP or DRIPA) allows for surveillance that is not limited to “the most serious crimes.” The Committee asked the U.K. to review its surveillance regime, to respect Article 17 on the right to privacy, and to take measures to “to ensure that any interference with the right to privacy complies with the principles of legality, proportionality, and necessity, regardless of the nationality or location of the individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance.”

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Camilla Wood

UK based Legal Aid Lawyer

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