Report on the adverse effect of the surveillance industry on freedom of expression

28 May 2019
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
To the HRC, 41st session


In 2019, the Special Rapporteur presented a report on targeted surveillance and the regulation of the public-private collaboration in the sale, transfer, use and after-sales support of surveillance technologies to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The private surveillance industry has thrived with low levels of transparency and public scrutiny and weak controls on transfers of technology. More often than not, governments offer limited information on the use of surveillance products and regulations of private surveillance companies. These challenges contribute to the lack of accountability for the human rights interferences suffered by direct targets of surveillance, as well as for victims of human rights violations facilitated by the use of surveillance technologies. In the face of these challenges, the Special Rapporteur proposes a human rights based legal and policy framework for the regulation and accountability of, as well as transparency within, the private surveillance industry.


The report’s key recommendations are:

  • To establish an immediate moratorium on the global sale and transfer of private surveillance technology until rigorous human rights safeguards are put in place to regulate such practices and guarantee that governments and non-State actors use the tools in legitimate ways.
  • States purchasing surveillance technologies should take measures to ensure that their use is in compliance with international human rights law. This includes reinforcing national laws limiting surveillance, creating public mechanisms for approval and oversight of surveillance technologies, and ensuring that victims of abuse have domestic legal tools of redress. States licensing export of surveillance technologies should request public input and conduct consultations and should ensure transparency in licensing. States that have not yet done so should join the existing Wassenaar Arrangement, which in turn should develop a framework for the human rights review of companies to ensure their compliance with the UN Guiding Principles.

  • private companies should implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and integrate human rights due diligence throughout their supply chain and servicing, develop rigorous safeguards against abuse, report alleged human rights violations, and establish effective remedial mechanisms for victims.

  • All stakeholders should establish co-regulatory initiatives that develop rights-based standards of conduct for the private surveillance industry and implement these standards through independent audits, and learning and policy initiatives. The United Nations should create a working group or cross-mandate task force to monitor and provide recommendations on trends in, and individual cases of, human rights abuses facilitated by digital surveillance.

Supplementary material and submissions to the report

Supplementary material, including summary of consultations, accompanying the report is available as addendums to the report.

Inputs received

Member States

NGOs and Civil Society Organizations


Special Procedures
​Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and opinion
​Recent thematic reports
​Contact information

Ms. Irene Khan
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneve 10, Switzerland

Fax: +41 22 917 9006

External links