UK: Human rights organisations warn that coronavirus measures risk drift to surveillance state

UK: Human rights organisations warn that coronavirus measures risk drift to surveillance state -

Human rights organisations, academics and activists have written to the Prime Minister and other government ministers about the impact of measures to tackle coronavirus on UK citizens’ fundamental rights.

The organisations that have signed include Access Now, ARTICLE 19, Big Brother Watch, Foxglove, medConfidential, openDemocracy, Open Rights Group and Privacy International. They have warned that these measures constitute a dangerous drift towards a surveillance state, violating the international framework on human rights and abandons democratic values and the rule of law.

The signatories’ key concerns are:

  • Exceptional powers under the UK Coronavirus Act changing the relationship between the state and the public by undermining safeguards against surveillance, weakening protections under the Mental Health Act and excessively limiting the right to protest.
  • An extension of surveillance by the increase of the number of public institutions that can access communications data collected under the Investigatory Powers Act.
  • The risk of surveillance mission creep when it comes to the use of data collected through the NHS contact tracing app.
  • Threats to transparency through weaker FOI regulation and a lack of information about public procurement.

ARTICLE 19’s Acting Executive Director Quinn McKew said:

“The UK Government has put in place a number of controversial policies and measures during the coronavirus pandemic. Together, they risk mission creep of surveillance powers, an increase online censorship and restrictions on public transparency.

“While governments need to take unprecedented measures to tackle the pandemic, these should not come at the expense of our fundamental human rights. A health crisis should not be seen an opportunity to increase surveillance powers and close down public debate. We urge the Government to review these measures and ensure that our rights are protected.”

Read the letter to the Prime Minister.

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