GenevaThe Electronic Frontier Foundation is pleased with the UN Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations from the United States’ review on its compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Human Rights Committee is a human rights body that monitors state implementation of the obligations relevant to privacy as outlined in the ICCPR.  On March 27 the Committee released their review of the US, flagging several inadequacies with the United States’ compliance.

In a dispatch from Geneva, EFF’s International Rights Director, Katitza Rodriguez, welcomes the Committee’s observations and urges the United States to conform to the recommendations.  Rodriguez states, “It’s imperative the United States comply with its human rights treaty obligations, specifically Article 17 of the ICCPR, which protect the right of privacy for everyone in the same manner, within or outside US borders, regardless of nationality or place of residence.”

It's very disappointing that the United States maintain its views that its human rights obligations under the ICCPR do not extend to its actions abroad, a view that defeats the object and purpose of the treaty. The Committee agreed and reiterates that the United States has an extraterritorial duty to protect human rightsincluding the right to privacy— to its action abroad regardless of the nationality or location of the individuals. 

The Committee rightly criticized the current system of oversight for NSA surveillance activities, highlighting concern with the judicial interpretations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and secret rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). These secret rulings prevent individuals from knowing the law with sufficient precision. Knowledge of and clarity in the law is a crucial principle that is clearly defined in our 13 Necessary and Proportionate Principles

Additionally, the Committee criticized Obama’s policy directive (PPD-28) because it offers only limited protection against excessive surveillance for non-US persons. The Committee correctly pointed out that those affected have no access to adequate remedies in case of abuse.

The Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations call upon the United States to implement the following recommendations:

  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that surveillance activities, both within and outside the United States, conform to the obligations under the ICCPR, including Article 17.  Any interference with the right to privacy must comply with the principles of legality, proportionality, and necessity regardless of the nationality or location of individuals whose communications are under direct surveillance;

  • Ensure that any interference with the right to privacy be authorized by laws that (i) are publicly accessible; (ii) contain provisions that ensure that collection of, access to, and use of communications data are tailored to specific legitimate aims; (iii) are sufficiently precise, specifying, in detail, the precise circumstances in which any such interference may be permitted, the procedures for authorizing such surveillance, the categories of persons who may be placed under surveillance, the limits on the duration of surveillance, and the procedures for the use and storage of the data collected; and (iv) provide for effective safeguards against abuse.

  • Reform the current system of oversight over surveillance activities to ensure its effectiveness by providing, for example, judicial involvement in authorization or monitoring of surveillance measures, and  establishing strong and independent oversight mandates with a view to prevent abuses;
  • Refrain from imposing mandatory retention of data by third parties;
  • Ensure that affected persons have access to effective remedies in cases of abuse.

EFF urges the US to implement the UN Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations and employ its recommendations in order to ensure equal protections for the rights of individuals in the United States and abroad.

Full text available here