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UN privacy expert seriously concerned by Ecuador

GENEVA (23 May 2019) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy, Joseph Cannataci, is very seriously concerned by reports that the Government of Ecuador is planning to hand over personal belongings of Julian Assange to the United States.

The independent expert said he had received information that, at the request of the United States Department of Justice, the Ecuadorian Government had decided to search on 20 May its London embassy premises used by the WikiLeaks founder and seize his documents, telephones, electronic devices, memory drives, etc., to hand them over to the US Government.

Concerned by the reports, Cannataci wrote to the Government of Ecuador recommending safeguards that should be in place before any search. He also offered to provide the assistance of impartial experts to monitor the search, and separate information that could be relevant for an eventual criminal process in the United States from information that should be kept private and handed back to Assange. The Special Rapporteur said he was disappointed by the lack of timely response from the Government of Ecuador.

"I have twice formally requested the Government of Ecuador to return Mr. Assange's personal effects to his lawyers, but instead it seems that it intends to hand them over to the US authorities. While I have no problem with search and seizure procedures which are properly carried out under the rule of law, these are very special circumstances on at least two counts: there is more than the right to privacy at stake. Other human rights and especially the freedom of expression are also at risk if some of Mr. Assange's material were to fall into the wrong hands. Mr. Assange dealt with a number of confidential sources and whistleblowers whose identity and privacy should likewise be protected,” said the Special Rapporteur.

"I am also disappointed by Ecuador’s lack of timely response to my proposal to visit Quito and further assess the complaint I received from President Lenin Moreno concerning a violation of his right to privacy, related to the alleged hacking that led to the online release of a large number of his communications and private photographs of him and his family.” Cannataci said the visit would have been “an excellent opportunity for me to better understand the particularities of the case”.

The Special Rapporteur said he hoped to get a response soon to his concerns and proposals for cooperation.

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