UN: Establish red lines on new and emerging technologies

UN: Establish red lines on new and emerging technologies - Digital


ARTICLE 19 made this statement during the interactive dialogue on the OHCHR report on the right to privacy at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the new report on the right to privacy in the digital age. The report makes clear that States can and must do more to prevent violations of the right to privacy stemming from new and emerging technologies. 

Across the globe, biometric technologies are being deployed for, and resulting in, mass surveillance of the public on a rapid scale. The untargeted use of these technologies in public spaces brings detrimental impacts on their enjoyment of human rights, deterring them from expressing their opinions, ideas or religious beliefs in public, or from participating in protests. These technologies are particularly dangerous for journalists, human rights defenders, and those belonging to minority groups at risk of discrimination. In Myanmar, as outlined in our recent report, CCTV cameras equipped with facial recognition are being weaponised to silence dissent in the context of the coup.

There is an urgent need for the UN to establish red lines and explicitly recognise that some biometric technologies can never be justified under international human rights law in future reports. As an example, emotion recognition technologies are fundamentally flawed and can never be justified under international human rights law, including the narrowly defined tests of necessity, proportionality, legality, and legitimacy. It is essential to establish international norms that ban the conception, design, development, deployment, sale, export, and import of these technologies.

While some biometric technologies can be used in exceptional and narrow circumstances, States must first implement strong protections to prevent human rights violations stemming from their use. We urge all States to urgently implement the call for a moratorium on the domestic and transnational sale and use of surveillance systems that can be used for the identification or classification of individuals in public places, including biometric technologies, until adequate human rights safeguards are in place. When those safeguards are in place, States must continue to ban the use of biometric technologies for mass surveillance of public and publicly-accessible spaces.