On March 7th 2017, the whistleblower platform and news organization WikiLeaks published more than 8000 new classified documents providing insight into the appalling spying practices of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Such documents demonstrate the systematic CIA infiltration of all kind of electronic devices around the world, including smart-TVs.

Once more the international community has to deal with highly intrusive, indiscriminate and large-scale surveillance programs run by US intelligence agencies in violation of international human rights law. Unlawful or arbitrary surveillance, interception of communications or collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, violate a wide range of human rights and fundamental freedoms and contradict basic principles of democratic societies.

Member states have the duty to defend their citizens from such aggression and to provide them with adequate safeguards and remedies. Member states have also the responsibility to protect digital communication technologies, including the Internet, which are crucial tools to promote human rights and democracy, and not instruments of control in the hands of a country with hegemonic ambitions.

While Wikileaks and its sources provide us once more with crucial information on human rights violations and give us the opportunity to strengthen legal and political accountability for abuses that otherwise would remain undetected, its founder and editor-in-chief continues to be arbitrarily deprived of his liberty despite being recognized as a political refugee for his work as a publisher by Ecuador. Edward Snowden, who exposed the National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance programs, is still exiled in Russia. This is unacceptable. In order to promote an environment in which human rights abuses are not tolerated, international protection should be granted to those people who risk their life and freedom to disclose wrongdoings and raise awareness on matters of significant public concern.

IADL calls upon the Human Rights Council:

  • to unanimously and bluntly condemn the US government for the unlawful and arbitrary actions of its secret services;
  • to extend or reformulate the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy in order to allow him to investigate all human rights implications of mass surveillance, which clearly cannot be limited to the right to privacy;
  • to elaborate an international instrument to regulate State surveillance;
  • to study the best ways to protect whistleblowers disclosing public interest information that is relevant for the promotion and protection of human rights and to ensure full protection to journalists or publisher who report on their revelations;
  • to urge the United Kingdom and Sweden to guarantee Mr. Assange freedom of movement and compensation, as also request by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention with its opinion No. 54/2015.

March 10th, 2017

IADL GD Item 3