Countries are using ever more pervasive surveillance methods that erode the fundamental right to privacy and go beyond steps required in the fight against terrorism, a UN investigator warned.
Martin Scheinin, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, said the trend risked leading to miscarriages of justice.
“This erosion takes place through the use of surveillance powers and new technologies, which are used without adequate legal safeguards,” he said in a 35-page report.
“These measures have not only led to violations of the right to privacy, but also have an impact on due process rights and the freedom of movement, especially at borders,” he said.
New technology is being harnessed to monitor the general public through body scanners at airports, tracers on mobile phones, spyware installed on computers or data mining of financial databases, he said.
Scheinin, a Finnish law professor and UN independent expert, expressed concern about what he said was a trend towards extending state surveillance powers “beyond terrorism” and urged the UN Human Rights Council to begin drawing up a global declaration on the issue.
US security procedures were subjected to a sweeping review after a 23-year-old Nigerian man was accused of trying to bomb a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day.
US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is due to discuss security standards with senior officials of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), representing 230 airlines, in Geneva on Friday.
People targeted by intelligence agencies are often unaware that they are on “no-fly lists” or lack recourse to courts to challenge racial or ethnic profiling, according to Scheinin.
He said states had a legitimate right to limit the privacy of people being formally investigated or who were subject to a warrant, but said the fight against terrorism was “not a trump card” allowing unrestricted surveillance by authorities.
For example, Scheinin said that biometric techniques, such as facial recognition, fingerprinting and iris-scanning could be an appropriate tool for identifying terrorist suspects, but were subject to abuse when stored in central databases.
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