February 18, 2019

RSF recommendations on regulating the surveillance industry

Crédit : RSF
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has submitted its recommendations on “The surveillance industry and human rights” in response to a request from David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. RSF calls for worldwide reinforcement of the regulations governing surveillance technology exports and for greater social responsibility on the part of the companies involved in this sector.

>> Read the letter sent to David Kaye <<<


The UN special rapporteur requested contributions from civil society on the need to take more account of human rights in the dual-use technology business and, in particular, its exports. By making this submission, RSF expects its recommendations to receive attention at the international level.


RSF’s submission makes these points:

  • Journalists are particularly targeted by surveillance operations, either directly or because they are in contact with whistleblowers and dissidents.
  • There are three main types of surveillance: the interception of communication, the hacking of terminal devices (smartphones and computers) and mass surveillance of communication flows.
  • In all cases, a significant problem for journalists is that they are either unaware that they are the under surveillance or they unable to identify who is responsible.


Due diligence

In RSF’s view, the private sector must practice due diligence that takes account of the way that this technology is used by authoritarian regimes. RSF also deplores the lack of

international standards on issuing export licences, calls for a global, regulatory legal framework for export controls of surveillance technology, and recommends further development of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights for the private surveillance sector.


RSF’s submission finally warns about the additional threats that could come from further rapid evolution in surveillance technology. In RSF’s view, the growing presence of CCTV cameras combined with facial recognition technology could further endanger the protection of journalists’ sources. Similarly, enhanced data mining, in which artificial intelligence is used to identify patterns in large datasets, could lead to a form of predictive surveillance. These considerations need to be included in the conclusions and recommendations that Special Rapporteur David Kaye presents in his next report to the UN General Assembly in October 2019.


>> Press freedom can wait no longer for tighter spyware export controls <<<