Governments around the world are increasingly using digital surveillance in their national security strategies, affecting people’s right to privacy, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned in its latest report.
The Acting High Commissioner, Nada Al-Nashif said when presenting the report in this Swiss city that “digital technologies bring enormous benefits to societies, but pervasive surveillance has a high cost, as it undermines rights and slows the development of dynamic and plural democracies”.
“In short, the right to privacy is more in jeopardy than ever. That is why it is necessary to act and to do it now,” added Al-Nashif.
Acnudh calls for the control of these cyber media with effective regulation, which complies with international laws and standards on the protection of human rights, in particular, “the right to privacy of people in the face of the increasingly extensive use of technological tools surveillance, control and oppression”.
The analysis focuses on three specific areas, the first of which is the abuse committed by state authorities with intrusive hacking tools, spyware.
Then on the key role, those encryption methods play in protecting human rights online; and, also, in the repercussions of the generalized digital surveillance of public spaces, both online and offline.
In the first case, the report details how some surveillance tools – for example, the Pegasus software – can turn most smartphones into “24-hour surveillance devices”.
“Digital technologies bring enormous benefits to societies, but pervasive surveillance comes at a high cost, as it undermines rights and slows down the development of dynamic and plural democracies”: Nada Al-Nashif.
This conversion allows the “intruder” to access not only all the information stored in our mobile phones, but also turns them into a weapon to spy on our lives.
“Although purportedly deployed to combat terrorism and crime, these espionage tools have often been used for illegitimate reasons, such as the suppression of critical or dissenting opinions and those who express them,” the report stated.
Preferred victims include journalists, opposition political figures, and human rights defenders, the report adds.
Already in July 2021, an OHCHR report recorded that various investigations revealed that the Pegasus program, of the Israeli company NSO, had spied on some 50,000 telephone numbers of heads of state and government, other politicians, activists of human rights and journalists around the world.
For this reason, OHCHR underlines the need to take urgent measures to tackle the spread of spyware and reiterates the call for a moratorium on the use and sale of hacking tools until adequate safeguards are in place for the protection of spyware.
It maintains the criterion that the electronic intervention of a personal device by the authorities should only be carried out as a last resort, and in cases that serve “to prevent or investigate a specific act that poses a serious threat to national security or a serious crime specific”.
It also considers that data encryption or encryption represents a key element for privacy and human rights in the digital field, but highlights that it is being undermined.
For this reason, it asks the States to avoid measures that could reduce the effectiveness of encryption, such as the installation of so-called “back doors”, which allow access to encrypted personal data or the systematic control of people’s devices.
The report finally warns about the growing surveillance of public spaces.
Previous limitations on the scope of monitoring methods have been destroyed by large-scale automated data collection and analysis, by new digitized identity systems, and by extensive biometric databases that facilitate the expansion of these surveillance measures surveillance.
New technologies have also enabled the systematic monitoring of the opinions that people express online, including the collection and analysis of contributions from social networks.
The report emphasizes that States must limit public surveillance measures to “those strictly necessary and proportionate”, and focus on specific places and times.
In addition, the duration of storage of such data must be limited, and the use of biometric recognition systems in public spaces must also be immediately restricted.
Finally, it is argued that all states must also act immediately to establish robust export control regimes for surveillance technologies that pose serious risks to human rights.
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