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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report

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EPIC --- Privacy and Human Rights Report 2006

Title Page Previous Next Contents | Country Reports >Federal Republic of Iraq

Federal Republic of Iraq

Constitutional Privacy Rights

In October 2005, the Iraqi constitution was approved by referendum. Article 17 of the Constitution enumerates two limited privacy rights. First, “Every individual shall have the right to personal privacy so long as it does not contradict the rights of others and public morals.” Second, “The sanctity of the homes shall be protected. Homes may not be entered, searched, or violated, except by a judicial decision in accordance with the law.”[2867]

The U.S. State Dept. reported that in 2006, the Iraqi government attempted to respect these restrictions, but the Iraqi armed forces frequently did not.[2868] The U.S. State Dept. reported that Iraqi police and armed forces regularly conducted searches of homes, workplaces, and individuals without warrant or probable cause, sometimes sweeping through entire neighborhoods and netting numerous captures that were then indefinitely detained incommunicado.[2869]

Martial Law

In November 2004, the Iraqi prime minister declared a nationwide state of emergency that conferred upon him the power to impose martial law. The prime minister has renewed the state of emergency every month since then. The state of emergency enables the prime minister to restrict public gatherings and associations, as well as to monitor and seize communications. The emergency order also enables the prime minister to authorize security forces to subject individuals to search and arrest without warrant or probable cause.[2870] In this war zone context, it may be inferred that Iraqi citizens enjoy little real privacy that cannot be abrogated by U.S. and coalition armed forces, Iraqi armed forces, insurgents, militias, or other groups. Most or all privacy rights guaranteed by the Iraqi constitution and international treaties can be derogated during periods of emergency and exigent circumstances.[2871]

In February 2007, the Iraqi prime minister implemented a new security plan for Baghdad that granted further martial law powers to military commanders. The Iraqi military received broad authority to conduct warrantless searches and arrests, monitor all private communications, and to restrict all public gatherings and association. The decree offers no time limits (i.e. sunset clauses) for any of these provisions, nor does it offer any limitation on searches of property or communication. The decree does, however, vaguely state that security forces must observe human rights and abide by the law.[2872]

Identification Systems

Frequent searches and demands for identification also occur at the large number of checkpoints established nationwide. These checkpoints can be controlled not only by U.S. or Iraqi security forces, but also by vigilante groups. The U.S. State Dept. reported checkpoints operated by armed militias appeared in earnest after February 2006. These checkpoints purported to be for neighborhood safety, but were often used to identify and murder Iraqis based on religious affiliation.[2873] Numerous reports have indicated that Iraqis regularly risk death if they are proven to be of a different sect than gunmen at a checkpoint.[2874] In July 2006, Shiite militiamen established a fake checkpoint and killed up to 50 Sunnis after examining their identification documents.

Likewise, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have long experienced discrimination and threats to their safety based on their state-issued identification documents, which visibly differ from those that Iraqi citizens receive. Particularly after sectarian conflict flared in 2006, numerous reports surfaced of Palestinians who were murdered after being identified through their documents.[2875] Because names are associated with religious and ethnic identity, many Iraqis reportedly change their names or carry illegal fake IDs to avoid being murdered by rival sects.[2876] However, this protective measure is eroded by the spread of biometric information databases.

The U.S. military was working on a biometric database of Iraqis since at least 2003, when U.S. interrogators collected fingerprints and other bodily information from prisoners of war and suspected loyalists to Saddam Hussein. This information was then routed to databases operated by U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, FBI, State Department and Department of Homeland Security, who utilized it to track individuals in Iraq and also foreigners seeking entry to the U.S.[2877]

Iraqi biometric collections have expanded since the inception of the original database. In 2007, U.S. troops began using mobile scanners to take fingerprints, eye scans, and input other personal data from Iraqis at checkpoints, workplaces, the sites of attacks, and door to door canvasses.[2878] This information was then collected in a massive identification database of Iraq citizens and administered by the U.S. military. However, there is as yet no indication of any privacy safeguards protecting against the risk that this information will be used to fuel an ethnic cleansing. Under this system, Iraqis who refuse to release their data can be barred from markets or neighborhoods that require an ID to enter. Virtually no one refuses.[2879]

In July 2007, NGOs Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Privacy International and Human Rights Watch issued a letter concerning the Iraqi biometric database to the US Secretary of Defense.[2880] The letter pointed out that the database presented a grave risk if its contents were ever disclosed to extremists, including those within the Iraqi government. The coalition’s letter urged the Secretary to adopt strong privacy safeguards to prevent unauthorized access and disclosure of the database’s contents. Noting that the Nazi and Rwandan governments had utilized identification records in order to more easily distinguish their genocidal victims, the letter urged the Secretary to develop measures to prevent misuse of the database. [2881]

Military Surveillance

Iraqi civilians are also under pervasive aerial surveillance. In 2004, the Iraqi military began acquiring reconnaissance aircraft to extend its surveillance capabilities across the country. The Iraqi security forces intend to purchase sixteen aerial observation and surveillance craft from Jordan-based Jordan Aerospace Industries, to oversee oil and electrical facilities, as well as coastal and border areas with significant civilian populations.[2882] The Iraqi military made its first two purchases in June.[2883] In 2007, the Department of Defense reported that the Iraqi Air Force possessed at least 14 aircraft capable of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions. Each air force unit monitors various key locations, relaying information to the Iraqi and Coalition ground forces on a daily basis.[2884]

In 2004, the U.S. Army purchased blimp-like aerostat surveillance systems from Lockheed Martin to provide long-term monitoring of Iraqis from above.[2885] The United States military has made extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) surveillance systems in Iraq, particularly the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper units, which are equipped with powerful sensors and cameras, including infrared, for continuous monitoring.[2886] Likewise, Iraq-based British forces heavily employ UAVs, including the 4ft-long Raven unit, to provide airborne surveillance capability.[2887] Though Denmark withdrew its troops in August 2007, it continued to provide helicopter surveillance for Iraqi forces.[2888]

International Obligations

Iraq became a member of the United Nations on December 21, 1945. Iraq signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in February 1969, and ratified the treaty in January 1971.[2889]

[2867] Constitution of the Federal Republic of Iraq, Article 17, available at <>.

[2868] US State Department Human Rights Report 2006 - Iraq, available at <>.
[2869] Id.

[2870] US State Department Human Rights Report 2006 – Iraq, supra.
[2871] See United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Terrorism and Human Rights, available at <>.

[2872] Human Rights Watch, Iraq: New Martial Law Powers Threaten Basic Rights, February 23, 2007, available at <>.

[2873] Id.
[2874] Edward Wong, “To Stay Alive, Iraqis Change Their Names”, N.Y. Times, Sept. 6, 2006, available at <>. See also Hussein Kadhim & Jenan Hussein, “Iraqis risk lives or jail time by carrying fake IDs; To move around, they show `right' card to hostiles to avoid being killed,” Houston Chronicle, June 24, 2007 at A28.

[2875] “Dozens killed in Baghdad attacks,” BBC, July 9, 2006, available at <>.
[2876] Id. at 33. See also Edward Wong, “To Stay Alive, Iraqis Change Their Names,” supra.

[2877] Jim Krane, “U.S. Military Compiles Biometric Database On Iraqi Fighters, Saddam Loyalists,” Information Week, May 9, 2003, available at <>.

[2878] Thomas Frank, “U.S. is building database on Iraqis,” USA Today, July 12, 2007, available at <>; Thomas Frank, “Identification effort crosses Iraq war zone; Quick background checks help separate insurgents from civilians,” USA Today, July 13, 2007, available at <>.
[2879] Thomas Frank, “U.S. is building database on Iraqis,” supra.

[2880] Letter from EPIC, Privacy International and Human Rights Watch to US Secretary of Defence, July 27, 2007, available at <>. See also Electronic Privacy Information Center, Iraqi Biometric Identification System, July 31, 2007, available at <>.
[2881] In August 2007, EPIC also issued a Freedom of Information Act request Seeking US Department of Defense records concerning appropriations and contracts awarded to companies to carry out Iraqi biometric data collection projects, as well as policy statements, regulations or rules governing the storage and use of the collected data.

[2882] Mahmoud Al Abed, “Jordan Aerospace Industries wins Iraqi tender for 16 surveillance aircraft,” Jordan Times, September 30, 2004, available at <>.
[2883] Doug Sample, “Iraqi Military Buys First Pair of Recon Aircraft,” American Forces Press Service, June 15, 2004, available at <>.
[2884] US Department of Defense, Report to Congress: Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, June 2007 at 42.

[2885] “U.S. Army to Deploy Lockheed Martin Aerostat Surveillance Systems in Iraq,” Lockheed Martin, February 12, 2004, available at <>.
[2886] Air Force Factsheet: MQ-9 Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, January 2007, available at <>.
[2887] “British Forces in Iraq now have Raven UAV for surveillance,” Shepard Group, September 27, 2006, available at <>.
[2888] US State Department, Section 1227 Report on Iraq to Congress, April 2007, at 11.

[2889] United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil an Political Rights, Status of Ratifications, available at <>.

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