Nel Mondo / O2 in English / O2 International

Surveillance of communications and the threat to journalists

From Reporters Without Borders – RSF will attend a panel discussion about the surveillance of communications that will be held tomorrow in Geneva as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 27th session

It will be followed by the presentation of a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on “The right to privacy in the digital age”.

Reporters Without Borders, which has prepared an oral statement for the Human Rights Council on the safety of journalists and surveillance, welcomes these initiatives. The two sessions will provide an opportunity to examine the dangers that digital surveillance poses to freedom of information and the right to privacy, and to stress the need for its strict regulation.

In his report, which will be submitted to a vote, the High Commissioner notes that governmental mass surveillance is “emerging as a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure.” He urges governments to take “immediate measures” to “review their own national laws, policies and practices to ensure full conformity with international human rights law.”

His appeal is urgent because surveillance of news providers is endangering freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. It allows the authorities to spy on their sources and their activities and to monitor the content of their communications.

Reporters Without Borders asks the Human Rights Council to include the issue of cyber-security in resolutions on the protection of journalists. RWB also urges governments to respect the “13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance” that were drafted by an NGO collective. Government surveillance activities must be regulated and supervised by independent judicial authorities and must comply with the principles of legality, need and proportionality. Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights included recommendations to this effect in reports issued in June 2013 and June 2014.

These reports criticize the secrecy surrounding surveillance operations and call for more governmental transparency. Reporters Without Borders has nonetheless noted legislative attempts to ban any revelations about surveillance. From Australia to Tunisia, laws are being drafted that provide for long jail terms for anyone disclosing such information.

RWB called for stricter regulation of surveillance technology exports during the Human Rights Council’s 26th session last June.

Read in Italian – Leggi in italiano

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