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Keeping Surveillance Technology from being Abused


A man wearing a protective face mask walks under surveillance cameras in Shanghai, China. (File)

Technology with surveillance capabilities is increasing exponentially and with it, the potential for it to be misused to violate human rights.

Keeping Surveillance Technology from being Abused
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Technology with surveillance capabilities is increasing exponentially and with it, the potential for it to be misused to violate human rights. That’s why the State Department has released guidance for American companies on how to prevent their products or services from being misused by foreign governments to commit human rights violations and abuses, said Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Scott Busby.

Products or services with intended and unintended surveillance capabilities have the potential to provide positive contributions to a country’s economic, defense, and societal well-being. For example, such products or services can be used to safe-guard election systems from interference.

But too often, surveillance technologies and products are misused by foreign governments to stifle dissent, harass human rights defenders, intimidate minority communities, discourage whistleblowers, chill free expression, target political opponents, journalists, and lawyers, or interfere arbitrarily or unlawfully with privacy.

In some cases, foreign governments have misused such products or services to subject entire populations to arbitrary or unlawful surveillance. “China is one country that has taken a very restrictive approach to the internet and is using surveillance technology widely in violation of international human rights standards,” said Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Busby.

This includes pervasive, high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang, where the PRC has implemented a campaign of repression against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other Muslim minority groups. Other governments around the world are employing the same technology on their citizens: Iran, Venezuela, and, according to a 2019 Wall Street Journal investigation, Algeria, Uganda, and Zambia.

It has never been more important for U.S. businesses to implement policies that protect against the misuse of their products. “We must continue to advance innovation that complements our approach to human rights,” said Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Busby, “including the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy and freedom of expression, as well as respect for the rule of law.

"We look forward to working with the U.S. business community and implementing this guidance and ensuring that American companies continue to reflect the strongest of American values.”

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