Not surprisingly, the United Nations Human Rights Committee gave the United States low scores on privacy and national security surveillance. In particular, the committee concluded the US has failed to establish “meaningful judicial oversight of its surveillance operations, adequate limits on data retention and meaningful access to remedies for privacy violations.”
The low grades appear in the committee’s mid-term review of the United States’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), an international UN treaty that calls on signatories to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to privacy.
What the committee’s conclusions largely fail to take into account, US intelligence officials say, is the increased post-9/11 need for surveillance in the furtherance of the nation’s national security, especially since it is the principal target of Islamist jihadists.
Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, has a different perspective. “These low grades suggest the US has a long way to go before it is in compliance with international law,” she said in a statement.
Patel also declared that, “The administration and Congress must take immediate steps to address the lack of intelligence oversight and restore the right to privacy in the digital age.”
“These grades show the gulf between current surveillance practices and human rights standards,” added Amos Toh, fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The US has an obligation to bridge this gap and show the international community that it is serious about protecting the privacy rights of all.”
The Brennan Center, along with Access and Amnesty International, submitted a report to the committee in advance of the review highlighting inconsistencies between the US national security surveillance and the ICCPR. The committee itself has offered a set of recommendations last year to help bring US surveillance practices in line with the right to privacy.
The Brennan Center noted that the, “UN Committee report comes at a time when US policymakers battle along political lines to rein in intrusive government surveillance activities. Although Congress recently ended the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone data with the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, there remains many NSA surveillance programs in need of reform.”
In July, the Brennan Center and civil liberties groups urged Obama to veto the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill the groups say threatens to undermine privacy and increase cyber-surveillance.