Washington, DC—Today, Representative John Curtis (R-UT), member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the China Task Force, released the following statement after his amendment, the Foreign Advanced Technology Surveillance Accountability Act, passed with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last night. His bipartisan legislation was first introduced as a bill last month and would recognize unreasonable or oppressive government surveillance as a human rights abuse. It would also require a report on whether countries have imported or unlawfully obtained biometric or facial recognition data from other countries. The amendment is also cosponsored by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Rep Dean Phillips (R-MN).

“Modern technology is the direct result of innovation by democratic people and countries. Unfortunately, many dictatorships have misused technology to lessen the accountability of leaders and increase human rights abuses such as torture or unjust detention,” said Curtis. “My amendment brings the State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights Practices into the 21st century to counter the growing adoption of advanced technology surveillance equipment by foreign governments—and will shed more light on China’s human rights violations, especially those against the Uighurs. I’m proud to see it included in this year’s bipartisan NDAA.”

Statements of Support

Adrian Shahbaz, Research Director for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House: “Governments around the world are increasingly employing surveillance as a tool of oppression and control in violation of internationally recognized human rights. As surveillance technologies are widely deployed to address the pandemic, this legislation to document human rights violations related to excessive surveillance is especially important.”

Andrea Prasow, Washington Director at Human Rights Watch: “The State Department’s annual human rights reports should reflect the realities of the world now, which includes new forms of repression online. This bill will help expose to public scrutiny which countries use surveillance technologies to restrict the rights of their people, and what tools they utilize. And US policymakers, who rely on these reports, will now have a fuller picture of rights violations around the world.”

Background

This NDAA, unlike last year’s House passed NDAA, is the result of many bipartisan amendments and negotiations. One of those amendments offered by Rep. Curtis, the Foreign Advanced Technology Surveillance Accountability Act, would require that the State Department’s Annual Report on Human Rights Practices also include information on the status of surveillance and use of advanced technology to impose arbitrary or unlawful  interference with privacy, or unlawful or unnecessary restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, or other internationally recognized human rights.

Text of the amendment available [HERE].

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