UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls on States & businesses to ensure that use of new technologies does not violate right to peaceful assembly

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Article
25 June 2020

Digital tools being used to track people as never before, warns UN rights chief

Author: UN News

Amid global protests against systemic racism, corruption and economic woes exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also expressed concern about the use of non-lethal weapons against demonstrators... The High Commissioner urged States and businesses to ensure that these and other fast-developing technologies are developed and used in ways that do not disrupt and prevent people’s participation in public affairs.

... [M]ore States are increasingly using facial recognition technology to identify protesters, “sometimes in real time”, said OHCHR’s Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement. This was despite the fact that the technology was allegedly “prone to errors”... “That means in this context that misidentification could lead to wrongful arrest for example, or prosecution. These risks we know are substantially greater for women and people of colour, raising the likelihood that facial recognition technology may perpetuate and amplify discrimination.”... It was also deeply concerning that protesters faced having their cell phone calls intercepted or blocked by “many” police forces, or their social media accounts hacked and systematically monitored... [T]he OHCHR report [also] urged States to avoid resorting to internet shutdowns.

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Article
25 June 2020

Impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests

Author: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The High Commissioner has emphasized that... Internet shutdowns... contravene international law, affecting States’ obligations to respect, in addition to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly, a wide range of rights, including freedom of association and of movement and the rights to health and education... While it is primarily the duty of States to avoid resorting to shutdowns, private companies also have a responsibility... providers could play a role in challenging Internet shutdown requests from governments and keep their customers informed of developments.

... The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association has called for the prohibition of indiscriminate and untargeted surveillance of those exercising their right of peaceful assembly... Online surveillance technologies and interference in communications often lead to harassment and intimidation... [F]acial recognition technology may perpetuate and amplify discrimination, including against Afrodescendants and other minorities...

... [T]he High Commissioner recommends that States:

  • Prohibit the use of surveillance techniques for the indiscriminate and untargeted surveillance of those exercising the right of peaceful assembly and association... and ensure that targeted surveillance measures are authorized only when there is reasonable suspicion that a particular individual has committed or is committing a criminal offence, or is engaged in acts amounting to a specific threat to national security
  • Ensure that an assessment of the risk of human rights violations and abuses facilitated by surveillance technology is a key factor in decisions on export licences...
  • Systematically conduct human rights due diligence before deploying facial recognition technology devices and throughout the entire life cycle of the tools deployed...
  • Establish effective, independent and impartial oversight mechanisms for the use of facial recognition technology

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Article
25 June 2020

New technologies must serve, not hinder, right to peaceful protest, Bachelet tells States

Author: United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet... called on States and businesses to ensure that new technologies, including facial recognition and so-called ‘less-lethal weapons,’ are developed and used in ways that do not disrupt and prevent people’s ability to exercise their fundamental rights to peaceful assembly and expression, and their right to participate in public affairs.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has today published a report examining the impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests... Technology-enabled surveillance has been a major factor in the shrinking of civic space in many countries, with States resorting to intrusive online surveillance and the hacking of ICT tools and social media accounts used by those planning or organizing protests, as well as of protesters themselves... The report also details the responsibility of private companies to carry out human rights due diligence, in particular to ensure that data protection and non-discrimination requirements are included in the design and implementation of these technologies.

... There should be a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in the context of peaceful protests, until States meet certain conditions including human rights due diligence before deploying it. These include effective, independent oversight of its use; strict privacy and data protection laws; and full transparency about the use of image recordings and facial recognition technology in the context of assemblies.

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