GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - On Thursday 29 September, the Government of Catalonia and Access Now, an international civil society organization, with the support of around thirty organizations, presented the ‘Geneva Declaration on Targeted Surveillance and Human Rights’. The Declaration contributes to the global movement to protect the right to privacy in the digital age, denounces the human rights threats posed by surveillance technologies, and calls on governments, with the support of the global community, to implement an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place.
The Geneva Declaration wasofficially launched today at the event ‘Spyware: a threat to Human Rights and Democracy’, organized by Access Now and the Government of Catalonia, with the support of the Delegation of the Catalan Government in Switzerland at the margins of the 51st United Nations Human Rights Council. The Declaration has already received the endorsement of around 30 organizations worldwide.
Since their inception, spyware and surveillance tools have been wielded against democratic actors like journalists, human rights defenders, and peaceful protestors and their communities, repeatedly facilitating human rights violations .While recognizing the eminent role of digital technologies in progress toward the Sustainable DevelopmentGoals, and their contribution to strengthening democracy and human rights, the growth and expansion of spywaretools, —with recent examples such as Pegasus or Candiru– the lack of protection and threats to the right to privacy demonstrate the need for urgent, collaborative global action.
Today, various actors from government, civil society, private sector, and academia mobilized the political will to protect individuals against such threats. Building off of UN experts’ calls for a global moratorium on spyware technology, and civil society’s diligent documentation and advocacy, the Geneva Declaration is a collective commitment to halt the proliferating use of surveillance technologies. The Declaration specifically calls on governments, in coordination with civil society and the private sector, to implement “a moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing and use of digital surveillance technologies”, until rigorous human rights safeguards are in place to regulate these practices.
The Declaration further proposes the establishment of a “legal and policy framework at the national and international level that subjects the acquisition of surveillance tools to robust public oversight, consultation and control,” citing to the principles of necessity, proportionality, legality and legitimacy.
Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, opened the event highlighting “the need of a creation of a general framework so that these technologies are in compliance with international human rights law standards”. In this sense, Voule welcomed the launch of the Declaration, as “it comes at a crucial time”.
Victòria Alsina, Minister for Foreign Action and Open Government of the Government of Catalonia, stated that “Catalan foreign action is known for its commitment to the protection of democracy and human rights everywhere”. For Alsina, the Declaration “represents a commitment to stop the threat to democracy posed by the indiscriminate use of targeted surveillance and to ensure that digital technologies expand fundamental human rights and freedoms”. The Government of Catalonia commits to the call for a global moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are in place to regulate these practices.
Access Now highlighted that “digital technologies have the power to advance human rights. But surveillance technologies do the opposite —they rob people and communities of privacy, agency, and freedom”. The digital rights organization echoed previous calls to put an end to the deployment of these treacherous tools, and to demand the immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing of, and use of digital surveillance tech.
The Geneva Declaration is open for signatures and the organizers call on institutions, the academic community, and associations in defense of human rights to join the initiative by reaching out to this link.
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