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UN: Rise of Private Surveillance Industry Undermining Freedom of Expression

Governments may have a valid and critical need to use surveillance technology in to confront criminal activity

An Apple employee demonstrates the facial recognition feature of the new iPhone X at the Apple Union Square store in San Francisco. VOA

A United Nations investigator says the rise of the private surveillance industry and the targeting of individuals by digital surveillance technology is undermining freedom of expression and putting the lives of many individuals at risk.  The U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, submitted his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

U.N. investigator David Kaye does not condemn all surveillance activities.  He recognizes that governments may have a valid and critical need to use surveillance technology in to confront criminal activity, such as terrorism.

He says governments should be able to acquire and use the technology to protect their citizens.

But he says he finds the transfer of private digital surveillance technology to governments that use it as a tool of repression very worrisome.

UN, Private Surveillance, Freedom
A United Nations investigator says the rise of the private surveillance industry and the targeting. Pixabay

‘We are witnessing a surveillance free for all, in which states and industry are essentially collaborating in the spread of technology that is causing immediate and regular harm to individuals worldwide, often across borders harming individuals and organizations that are essential to democratic life—journalists, defenders, opposition figures, lawyers, and others,” Kaye said.

In his report, Kaye cites numerous examples. In one case, Ethiopia’s government allegedly spied on an Ethiopian-born man in the U.S.  The technology infected his computer with malware marketed by a German and British company.  The program recorded his emails, Internet video calls and keystrokes.  The data was then sent back to servers in Ethiopia.

In another case, Kaye says credible reporting suggests the Chinese government used facial recognition technology and surveillance cameras to look for ethnic Uighurs based on their appearance.  The government reportedly keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review.  He says some of the technology was produced by private Chinese companies.

Kaye says the technologies are spreading globally without control.  He says the private surveillance industry operates in the shadows, developing and marketing the technologies in highly secretive settings.   He notes that trade is driven by a thirst for profits.

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He warns the failure of states to impose constraints on the export or other transfer of targeted surveillance technology allows the illegitimate, dangerous trade to flourish.

“There is wide recognition that digital surveillance, particularly when conducted in the absence of legal constraint and oversight under cover of secret laws and policies without disclosure of purchase or use, is a threat to freedom of expression,” said Kaye.

Kaye is calling for an immediate moratorium on the global sale, transfer and use of the tools of the private surveillance industry.  He says he is not calling for a permanent ban or an end to all surveillance.

But he says rigorous human rights safeguards must be put in place to assure digital surveillance tools are being used in legitimate ways before business in the technology is allowed to go ahead. (VOA)

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Toxicity in Air Affects Children’s Brain Development: UNICEF

UNICEF has warned that air pollution affects a child's brain development

Brain Development
According to UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, air pollution toxicity can affect children's brain development. Pixabay

Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore has warned that air pollution toxicity can affect children’s brain development and called for urgent action to deal with the crisis gripping India and South Asia.

“I saw first-hand how children continue to suffer from the dire consequences of air pollution,” Fore, who recently visited India, said on Wednesday.

“The air quality was at a crisis level. You could smell the toxic fog even from behind an air filtration mask,” she added.

Air pollution affects children most severely and its effects continue all their lives because they have smaller lungs, breathe twice as fast as adults and lack immunities, Fore said.

Brain Development
Air pollution damages brain tissue and undermines brain development in babies and young children. Pixabay

She added that it “damages brain tissue and undermines cognitive development in babies and young children, leading to lifelong consequences that can affect their learning outcomes and future potential. There is evidence to suggest that adolescents exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more likely to experience mental health problems”.

“Unicef is calling for urgent action to address this air quality crisis,” affecting 620 million children in South Asia.

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Schools were closed in Delhi till Tuesday because of the severe environmental situation caused by post-harvest burning of stubble in neighbouring states.

The Air Quality Index (AQI) on Sunday touched 625, considered “severe plus” level. (IANS)