The UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Counter-Terrorism, Fionnuala Aoláin, Tuesday expressed concern that digital technologies used to combat terrorism contribute to human rights violations around the world.
The expert’s report highlighted several avenues through which counter-terrorism arguments are used to encourage the development and use of biometric technology, artificial intelligence and surveillance tools. However, Aoláin warned these technologies have been used to violate the rights of individuals and communities. She also pointed out that some of these technologies are introduced through the “back door,” exacerbating human rights violations.
The report also detailed how, despite the use of biometrics for public welfare, terrorist groups have used them to perpetuate human rights violations–particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, the use of armed drones used in conflicts endangers civilian lives. This is on top of the drones’ use for “targeted killings,” including extrajudicial and arbitral killings. Aoláin also emphasized that artificial intelligence (AI) systems pose additional threats to data privacy and human rights, particularly when used for criminal profiling and identification. She urged states not to rely solely on AI predictions as a basis for suspicion due to its opacity in decision-making.
According to Aoláin’s report:
The failure to take into account of the special characteristics of high-risk systems, the systemic devaluation of discrimination and inequality risks, and the lack of human rights-based risk management approaches define the major human rights challenges in this realm.
Aoláin recognized international efforts to combat terrorism, yet called the approaches constrained and ineffective. As a result of their ineffectiveness, state-level counter-terrorism technologies are deployed. Consequently, Aoláin encouraged states and other stakeholders to assess the appropriateness and necessity of such technologies before implementing them. Aoláin urged states to pass laws that aim to uphold human rights in the context of counter-terrorism technologies. She also encouraged states to use counter-terrorism technologies,such as drones, in accordance with international law and regulations.
At the international level, Aoláin highlighted the UN’s role in enabling counter-terrorism technology before conducting due diligence. Aoláin called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to regulate counter-terrorism technology with caution, discretion and restraint. Beyond Guterres, Aoláin also called on the UN to comprehensively address human rights violations committed through the use of counter-terrorism technologies. She urged the implementation of practical solutions.