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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

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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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UN: World Showing Lack of Ambition in Reducing Inequality, Countering Climate Change

The natural environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate: sea levels are rising; ocean acidification is accelerating

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climate change, reducing inequality
UN document stresses that 75 per cent of children who suffer from stunted growth and physical development live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Pixabay

The world’s governments are showing a lack of ambition in pursuing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in terms of reducing inequality and countering climate change, the United Nations said in a report published Tuesday.

The findings were presented at the opening of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which brings together some 2,000 participants from around the world to evaluate progress toward meeting the 17 SDGs that the world body’s 193 member-states set in 2015, the Efe news reported.

Time is running short to take effective action on climate change, the head of UN Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, said. “The challenges highlighted in this report are global problems that require global solutions. Just as problems are interrelated, the solutions to poverty, inequality, climate change and other global challenges are also interlinked,” he said.

climate change, reducing inequality
The natural environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate: sea levels are rising; ocean acidification is accelerating. Pixabay

While the report notes some progress, including lower levels of extreme poverty, expanded immunization, improved access to electricity and a 49 per cent reduction in mortality among children 5 and under, the emphasis is on the need for greater urgency.

“It is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.

“The natural environment is deteriorating at an alarming rate: sea levels are rising; ocean acidification is accelerating; the last four years have been the warmest on record; one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction; and land degradation continues unchecked,” Guterres said.

climate change, reducing inequality
Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat. Pixabay

Liu said that climate change remains the greatest obstacle to “our shared prosperity,” as extreme weather affects agriculture and, by extension, efforts to reduce hunger.

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The UN document stresses that 75 per cent of children who suffer from stunted growth and physical development live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, while people residing in at-risk states are twice as likely to lack basic sanitation and four times more likely to be without reliable access to potable water.

Looking forward, the report said that steps to combat climate change can also help in reducing poverty and inequality. In that regard, Liu said that moving toward renewable, non-polluting sources of energy will in turn begin to reverse deforestation, just as sustainable agriculture can ease both hunger and want, as nearly 80 per cent of people living in extreme poverty are residents of rural areas. (IANS)