UNSC meeting: Rights must be protected in fight against terrorism, declaration says

At least five delegates to the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee meeting – including the US, UK and UN human rights envoys – raised the issue of human rights in the context of the use of emerging technologies against terrorism on Saturday. At the meeting, the UN Human Rights Envoys, Ireland and Norway discussed the issues of surveillance and privacy and how these can be compromised under the guise of terrorism. The US, meanwhile, condemned the shutdown of communications services “on the pretext” of counter-terrorism.

The Delhi Declaration on Saturday mentioned “human rights” at least eight times and “fundamental freedoms” twice. It calls for anchoring the use of counter-terrorism technologies within a human rights framework. “…Member States must ensure that any measures taken to combat terrorism, including the use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist purposes, respect the Charter of the United Nations and comply with their obligations under international law, including international human rights law, humanitarian law and international refugee law, as applicable,” said a key paragraph.

At another point, the declaration said it recognized the efforts of the UN-affiliated Tech Against Terrorism initiative to enhance cooperation with representatives of the technology industry, civil society, academia and government to disrupt the ability of terrorists to use the Internet for terrorist purposes. , “while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Scott Campbell, leader of the human rights and digital technologies team at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, raised the issue of the use of “surveillance” and “spyware” tools by law-enforcement authorities against dissenting voices in the name of countering terrorism. .

“While often justified as being deployed to combat terrorism and crime, such spyware tools are often illegal and have been used for a much wider range of purposes, including suppressing critical or dissenting opinions and those who express them,” Campbell said. . He said they called for a moratorium on their use and marketing until adequate safeguards are developed and put in place.

“The use of new and emerging technologies for terrorist activities needs to be anchored in human rights laws. This is not necessarily because of our commitment to uphold the right as a legal and moral imperative. But because respecting rights and fighting terrorism are fundamental to ensuring sustained and effective efforts to protect our security systems. Crossing these critical lines not only violates the law, they undermine efforts to combat terrorism by eroding community trust essential to successful deterrence and response,” Campbell said. “Claims to filter and block content on social media often affect minorities and journalists disproportionately.”

Campbell also said that state approaches to combating terrorism have often used vague definitions of terrorism or terrorist acts and have sometimes granted broad executive powers without adequate safeguards against abuse.

Mass surveillance, often portrayed as a necessary counterterrorism measure, has been a serious problem for years and appears to be expanding through indiscriminate video and facial recognition surveillance, he said.

The U.S. representative on the Counter-Terrorism Committee said the United States “respects freedom of expression consistent with our Constitution and honors our long-standing support for an open, secure, trustworthy, reliable, and interoperable Internet” to be active in the fight against terrorist use of the Internet.

The British representative, too, spoke about human rights: “As we adapt our counter-terrorism efforts to keep up with the terrorist misuse of emerging technologies, we must also take a step back and look at the underlying drivers of terrorism. This means we must uphold human rights, good governance and the rule of law.”

Highlighting the issue of surveillance, Ireland’s representative said: “Often, counter-terrorism measures violate human rights. A High Commissioner for Human Rights report on the right to privacy has highlighted how hacking tools and mass surveillance of public places, ostensibly to counter terrorism, are misused to target journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents. Under the guise of counter-terrorism, human rights abuses fuel radicalisation.”

Norway echoes Ireland in protecting human rights and privacy. That said, freedom of expression must be protected both offline and online.

In July 2021, a global collaborative investigative project revealed that Pegasus, a powerful spyware developed by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO Group, may have been used to target mobile phones of potential individuals in several countries, including India.

In August this year, the Supreme Court took on record the report of the committee appointed by it to investigate allegations that personal communication devices of several individuals, including journalists, civil society activists, politicians, etc., have been targeted using Pegasus. The apex court committee found no conclusive evidence of spyware being used in the phones it examined but noted that the central government “did not cooperate” with the panel, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said.

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