Draft UK surveillance law threatens freedom of expression, UN human rights experts warn

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

12 January 2016 – United Nations human rights experts have called for a comprehensive review of the United Kingdom’s draft Investigatory Powers bill, warning that if adopted in its present form it could threaten the rights to freedoms of expression and association both inside and outside the country.

The legislation, currently being examined by the Joint Parliamentary Committee, aims to unify the various regulations governing how UK surveillance agencies, police and other authorities can monitor suspects.

Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai, and Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst expressed serious concerns about several provisions of the draft Bill.

They cited excessively broad definitions and disproportionate procedures to authorize surveillance, including mass surveillance, and data retention without adequate independent oversight and transparency.

“The lack of transparency could prevent individuals from ever knowing they are subject to such surveillance,” the experts noted in a six-page submission to the Parliamentary Committee. “This will ultimately stifle fundamental freedoms and exert a deterrent effect on the legitimate exercise of these rights and the work of civil society and human rights defenders.”

Stressing the potential for human rights violations, they called for a comprehensive review of the draft bill “to ensure its compliance with international human rights law and standards.”

UN rapporteurs, serving in an independent capacity, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, to whom they report back.

News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN rights expert urges reversal of UK decision to halt Mediterranean migrant rescues

Related Stories

In-depth Interviews