The UN has called for a moratorium on the sale of “life-threatening” surveillance technologies, slamming the NSO Group and Israel in particular.
The UN’s action is prompted by a recent allegation that NSO Group’s products have been widely utilized for purposes other than national security, such as tracking political dissidents, the media, and others who authoritarian governments desire to monitor.
Allowing surveillance technologies and the trade sector to function as a human rights-free zone is extremely hazardous and irresponsible, according to UN human rights experts.
The UN expressed concern that highly sophisticated intrusive tools are being used to monitor, intimidate, and silence human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents claiming that they violate human rights to freedom and liberty, endangering the lives of hundreds of people, risking media freedom, and undermining democracy, peace, and security, as well as undermining democracy, peace, and international cooperation.
The UN statement then goes on to demand that NSO Group disclose whether or not it ever conducted any meaningful human rights due diligence in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and publish fully the findings of any internal probes it may have undertaken on this issue.
Israel, the NSO Group’s home country, has also been urged to take action by disclosing whether it has reviewed the NSO Group’s export sales.
There are no additional merchants or nation-states listed, but the UN wants them all in jail. Its declaration urges the international community to create a strong regulatory framework to avoid, mitigate, and correct the detrimental human rights consequences of surveillance technologies.
The UN wants the world to “implement a moratorium on its sale and transfer” while that document is being developed.
This seems wonderful, but it’s probably not feasible. While there are various initiatives underway to codify standards controlling appropriate use of information technology in cross-border and intra-country disputes, few are binding, several big countries have not joined up, and any government can, in any event, deploy plausible crime gangs to do its work for it.
When you consider that several countries are increasingly letting it be known that their military and electronic warfare agencies have offensive capabilities and will not hesitate to use them when it is deemed necessary, it’s clear that the UN’s call may make life even more difficult for NSO Group, but it has little chance of preventing governments from using surveillance technology whenever they want.