On May 11, 2015, the UN Human Rights Council conducted a major review of the U.S.’s human rights record. One of the key issues that emerged was the privacy and human rights concerns raised by the U.S.’s intelligence surveillance operations. Classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden reveal that U.S. intelligence agencies have been secretly acquiring and monitoring vast amounts of personal and sensitive communications and data around the world. This review period provides the U.S. an opportunity to identify steps it will take to bring its surveillance activities in line with the right to privacy, the freedom of expression, and other fundamental rights.
The Brennan Center, together with Access, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch and PEN American Center, has developed a list of recommendations that the Human Rights Council should propose and the U.S. should adopt on intelligence surveillance. In particular, the U.S. should:
- Recognize a legal duty to respect and ensure the right to privacy and other human rights of persons outside its territory when it acquires, processes, uses, stores or shares their digital communications and data.
- Recognize that, under international law, any interference with the right to privacy (including any surveillance activity) must be a necessary and proportionate means of pursuing a legitimate governmental aim, and minimally intrusive of protected interests.
- Recognize that any interference with the right to privacy (for example, selection of targets for surveillance) must be consistent with the prohibition against discrimination on protected grounds (such as those listed in Article 2(1) of the ICCPR).
Adopting these recommendations will not only ensure that U.S. intelligence surveillance activities comply with international law, but also set human rights benchmarks for government surveillance everywhere.