Joint letter to the UN on social media and device collection at US borders
, February 2017
In a joint letter sent to High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, and UN experts, a group of organisations urged these authorities to investigate reports that the United States is demanding that visitors provide access to their electronic devices as well as passcodes to those devices and online accounts.
These practices persist in violation of the United States’ human rights treaty obligations, and action is needed to hold the US government accountable for the protection of human rights at US borders, which are not zones of exclusion or exception.
The digital devices most people carry in their pockets or bags grant access to our social media accounts and contain a dizzying array of personal information. Today, these devices multi-task as our primary means of voice and text communication, our cameras, fitness trackers, sleep monitors, banking portals, home shopping networks, and the source of the answers for any questions that may come up in casual conversation.
The signatories asked the UN authorities to raise the issues communicated in this letter with the US government, in particular that it is failing to conform with its commitments to protect human rights by demanding access to electronic devices and social media accounts as a prerequisite for entry into the country. The signatories also request that an inquiry be conducted to more comprehensively investigate these alarming incidents and policies, as well as a country visit to the US to observe and monitor the procedures at the border controls, to serve as the basis for the inquiry.