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U.S. Receives Low Grades on Privacy and Surveillance from UN Committee

Today, the UN Human Rights Committee gave the U.S. low grades on privacy and national security surveillance practices, highlighting the gulf between current practices and intentional human rights standards.

July 28, 2015

Today, the UN Human Rights Committee issued its mid-term review of the United States’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) — an international UN treaty that calls on signatories to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to privacy.

The Committee rated the United States low on privacy and national security surveillance. In particular, the Committee found that the U.S. has failed to establish meaningful judicial oversight of its surveillance operations, adequate limits on data retention, and meaningful access to remedies for privacy violations.

“These low grades suggest the U.S. has a long way to go before it is in compliance with international law,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The Administration and Congress must take immediate steps to address the lack of intelligence oversight and restore the right to privacy in the digital age.”

“These grades show the gulf between current surveillance practices and human rights standards,” added Amos Toh, Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The U.S. has an obligation to bridge this gap and show the international community that it is serious about protecting the privacy rights of all.”

The Brennan Center, along with Access and Amnesty International, submitted a report to the Committee in advance of the review highlighting inconsistencies between the U.S. national security surveillance and the ICCPR. The Committee itself has offered a set of recommendations that would bring the U.S. surveillance practices in line with the right to privacy.

The UN Committee report comes at a time when U.S. policymakers battle along political lines to rein in intrusive government surveillance activities. Although Congress recently ended the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone data with the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, there remains many NSA surveillance programs in need of reform.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Seth Hoy at or 646–292–8369.