Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Privacy in the Digital Age

Interactive Dialogue with Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on Privacy in the Digital Age

Statement by the United States of America
UN Human Rights Council – 47th Session 

Geneva, July 2, 2021
As Delivered by Phillip Riblett

The United States takes its privacy obligations very seriously, so we were pleased to welcome the Special Rapporteur to the United States in 2017 and participated robustly in the country review.

The United States fully complies with Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which imposes an obligation to refrain from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy. In the United States, freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy is protected by a variety of laws, including the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In addition to Fourth Amendment protections, the United States takes a strong, effective sectoral approach to privacy protection, with democratically elected legislatures at the state and federal levels enacting privacy laws to address privacy risks in specific situations and provide appropriate resources to enforce them. This tailored approach to privacy improves the fit for particular industries and communities, increasing buy-in and rates of compliance, and maintaining the public trust.

We commend the Special Rapporteur for recognizing that the U.S. system of privacy is not just a “law on the books, but law on the ground” – that is, the law as applied. The U.S. system includes layers of regulation, policy, and procedure to implement law, multiple layers of oversight within and outside agencies, and resources committed to privacy programs.

We invite others to review our detailed response to the Special Rapporteur’s U.S. country report, which is posted on the UN website as an annex to the country report.

We thank the Special Rapporteur for his report on artificial intelligence (AI) and privacy and on children’s privacy.  With the emergence of new AI applications, the protection of privacy is essential to the full enjoyment of human rights. AI technologies have the potential to provide positive contributions to economic, defence, and societal well-being. At the same time, AI applications can be misused by governments for nefarious purposes, including arbitrary or unlawful interference with one’s privacy and infringement on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. These measures can inhibit a vibrant civil society, which is essential to achieving the full respect for human rights.

In light of these concerns, the U.S. Department of State published human rights due diligence guidance for businesses to mitigate the risk their products or services with surveillance capabilities can be misused by governments.

Mr. Special Rapporteur, what topics do you see as most urgent for human rights observers to watch in the coming years in this space?