Brazil and Germany have introduced to the UN General Assembly their draft resolution calling for internationally recognized rights to privacy in the wake of the ongoing NSA scandal in which the leaders of the two states were spied on.
The document urging an end to the global electronic espionage and the extension of Internet freedom was read out in the Third Committee of the UN for social, humanitarian and cultural affairs.
“The General Assembly … affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular the right to privacy,” the draft resolution said.
It also expressed concern “at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications.”
The draft which is likely to be supported by over 20 nations will probably undergo changes before it is adopted. It calls for “measures to put an end to violations of these rights and to create the conditions to prevent such violations, including by ensuring that relevant national legislation complies with their obligations under international human rights law.” In addition the resolution calls for the creation of independent oversight mechanisms in every country to curb spying.
It also urges UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to produce a report “on the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data.”
The document recommends expanding the protection defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to privacy and electronic communications. It “affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular the right to privacy.” However the draft leaves room for the suspension of such guarantees “for the protection of national security or of public order.”
“Where do we draw the line between legitimate security concerns and the individual right to privacy? And how do we ensure that human rights are effectively protected both offline and online?” German Ambassador Peter Witting asked when presenting the jointly sponsored German-Brazilian draft.
His counterpart Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said: “In the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of opinion and expression, and no effective democracy.”
“Privacy is of the essence in safeguarding individuals against abuse from power,” Patriota told the Third Committee.
“Brazil believes it is crucial for the international community to engage in a serious in-depth debate on how to uphold certain fundamental rights of human beings in the digital age, including in light of concerns with national security and criminal activity,” he said.
Thursday’s resolution comes amid international scandal over NSA spying on the world’s population and eavesdropping on a number of foreign leaders, including Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Leaving the blame aside, the document presented in the UN does not name the United States or any other country as the offender.
NSA spying revealed by the former employee Edward Snowden showed that Washington has spied on at least 35 world leaders besides the exposed the mass surveillance against private citizens and business. According to Snowden’s leak intelligence agencies from all signatories of the ‘Five Eyes’ agreement – also including the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – collaborated with the NSA.
Since Snowden’s leaks surfaced in June, protests demanding more privacy protection have engulfed countries around the globe with thousands of people worldwide having joined the recent Million Mask March rallies organized by the amorphous Anonymous movement.
General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but they do voice global opinion. The UNGA vote on the document is expected in three weeks at the earliest.
“The United States has made no contention that it faces a public emergency threatening the territorial integrity or sovereignty of the country, nor told anyone it is derogating from its treaty obligations, so this isn’t really in play,” Dina Pokempner, the general counsel of Human Rights Watch told The Associated Press.