Spyware: a threat to human rights and democracy

The Geneva Declaration on Targeted Surveillance and Human Rights

The Geneva Declaration on Targeted Surveillance and Human Rights (the Declaration) is a collective commitment to human rights in the digital age. While recognizing that digital technologies can strengthen democracy and human rights, the Declaration specifically condemns the proliferating use of surveillance technologies to target communities engaging in protected activities, and calls on governments, in coordination with civil society and the private sector, to implement a moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies developed by the private industry, until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place to regulate such practices.

Led by civil society organisation Access Now and the Government of Catalonia, the Declaration is set to officially launch on 29 September 2022 at the UN Human Rights Council’s 51st session side event Spyware: A Threat to Human Rights and Democracy organised by Access Now and the Government of Catalonia, in Geneva, Switzerland.

We hope the Declaration will serve as a useful advocacy tool for governments, civil society, tech professionals and academics worldwide.

If you have any questions about the Declaration, please contact: [email protected]

The Geneva Declaration on Targeted Surveillance and Human Rights: a call for a collective commitment to Human Rights in the digital age

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, governments, private sector companies, and individuals, declare we are:

Recognizing the importance of technology as a strong tool for economic, social, and sustainable development, and taking into account its benefits in facing the challenges of rising authoritarianism;

Noting the existence of digital technologies for surveillance, including mobile device hacking, network surveillance, and facial and affect recognition, amongst others;

Noting that the growing use of these tools is leading to serious human rights violations and threatens democracy;

Recognizing that there is a lack of an international framework to regulate and limit the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of surveillance technology, despite repeated calls from UN human rights experts for its development;

Condemning the proliferating use of surveillance to target communities engaging in protected activities such as peaceful protest, democratic social movements, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists, as it contributes to an undesirable chilling effect on human rights and democracy;

Taking note of the existence of widespread cases of individuals whose fundamental rights have been violated by the intrusion of surveillance technologies impacting their public and private lives; and

Commit ourselves, and call on multilateral organisations, governments, and private sector actors to likewise, take the following measures to protect democracy and respect human rights in the digital age:

  1. Implement an immediate moratorium on the export, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted digital surveillance technologies until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place to regulate such practices;
  2. Establish a legal and policy framework – at national and international levels – that makes the acquisition of surveillance tools subject to robust public oversight, consultation, and control, in order to comply with safeguards against illegitimate access, and to guarantee the principles of necessity, proportionality, legality, legitimacy, and due process, in accordance with the 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance;
  3. Recognize and enforce the right to remedy and reparation through strong and independent oversight measures for individuals targeted by cyberespionage;
  4. Hold companies developing and distributing these technologies accountable for their failure to respect human rights and to acknowledge their contributions to abusive end uses, and demand transparency from said companies around the extent of data obtained and their processing;
  • Review and reform all relevant laws and regulations governing the import, export, procurement, development, oversight, sale, transfer, servicing, and use of targeted surveillance technologies in order to ensure compliance with international human rights law and norms;
  1. Develop and encourage the adoption of robust safeguards and standardised clauses in any contract of purchase and sale of cyber surveillance programs to ensure compliance with human rights standards for any use of these products and services;
  2. Publicly report any detected misuse of cybersurveillance products and services resulting in human rights violations to any relevant oversight body, either at the national, regional, or international level; and
  3. Ensure that digital transformation works for, not against, democracy and human rights, in ways that strengthen opportunities, while confronting ongoing challenges.

Endorsed by:

  • Access Now
  • Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
  • ALQST for Human Rights
  • Amnesty International
  • Assemblea Nacional Catalana (ANC)
  • Bahrain Center for Human Rights
  • Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication
  • Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT)
  • Conscious Digital
  • Coordinadora d’ONGD i altres Moviments Solidaris de Lleida
  • CTECNO, Cercle Tecnològic de Catalunya (+60 companies and professional associations)
  • CyberPeace Institute
  • Eticas Foundation
  • Government of Catalonia
  • Grup Barnils
  • Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  • Heartland Initiative
  • INSM Network
  • Institut for Nonviolence – Novact
  • Irídia, Centre per la Defensa dels Drets Humans
  • JOSA
  • Masaar – Technology and Law Community
  • MENA Rights Group
  • Miaan Group
  • Nym Technologies
  • Òmnium Civil Rights Europe
  • Òmnium Cultural
  • Organization of the Justice Campaign
  • Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
  • Ranking Digital Rights
  • Red Line for Gulf (RL4G)
  • SMEX
  • Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)
  • The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
  • The Tor Project
  • Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD)
  • Universitat de Barcelona
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  • Xnet

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