United Nations declares again that mass surveillance threatens the right to privacy.

November 27, 2014

Several newspapers have reported on this matter but perhaps not many  in the US (see at the end). In an excellent blog post on 26 November 2014 Peter Micek and Javier Pallero give the background to this UN Declaration, for the second straight year, which states that government communications surveillance poses a threat to the right to privacy. I quote liberally from it:

Passed unanimously on Tuesday by the Third Committee, the resolution on “The right to privacy in the digital age” this time also calls for a permanent ‘office’ on the right to privacy. For that to happen, the Human Rights Council in Geneva will have to take action in March 2015 by creating a new “special rapporteur” on the right to privacy.

Background

In response to mass surveillance revelations in 2013, including news that their political leaders had been spied on, Brazil and Germany co-authored a unanimous resolution in the General Assembly. The resolution called for a report by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who came with a scathing critique in July 2014 that cited the need for immediate reform of surveillance laws and practices in line with international human rights norms. The report’s finding that mass surveillance inherently violates human rights spoke directly to the “five eyes” countries – the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia – who are responsible for weakening technical standards, collecting untold reams of data, and thwarting public debate over their practices.

Brazil and Germany again teamed up to lead this year’s effort, gathering more than 60 cosponsors. The resolution finds that surveillance must be “consistent with international human rights obligations and must be conducted on the basis of a legal framework, which must be publicly accessible, clear, precise, comprehensive and non-discriminatory.” It smartly calls for greater access to remedy for victims — a too-often ignored pillar of rights frameworks — and for increased attention to the role of private companies in government surveillance. In oral statements, the US and its allies in the “Five Eyes” drew attention to the resolution’s acknowledgment of “threats and harassment” that human rights defenders face along with privacy violations. And the resolution invites the Human Rights Council to “consider the possibility of establishing a special procedure” regarding the promotion and protection of the right to privacy.

Shortcomings

  • The resolution does not specifically call for governments to extend protections to users abroad.  Although expressing concern is important, governments must do much more to provide an effective solution to cross-border violations.
  • The resolutions language on restrictions is unnecessarily general (“non-arbitrary and lawful”) but it could have used findings by multiple courts and international experts more precisely defining how privacy rights should be handled – that surveillance and other privacy restrictions should only be prescribed by law, necessary to achieve a legitimate aim, and proportionate to the aim pursued. These concepts are further articulated in the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, which High Commissioner Pillay said in her report can be considered interpretive guidance of Article 17 of the ICCPR that establishes the right to privacy.
  • While the resolution notes that metadata can, when aggregated, “reveal personal information and can give an insight into an individual’s behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity,” it stops short of calling for an end to bulk metadata collection by governments, which the Human Rights Council has an opportunity to push for in March.

Summarizing, the authors of the post think that this resolution is a step in the right direction and “Access” will continue working to ensure the Council follows through on the General Assembly’s suggestion, and creates the Special Rapporteur.

https://www.accessnow.org/blog/2014/11/26/new-un-resolution-shifts-momentum-on-privacy-to-human-rights-council

In a related piece in ‘The Local’ one can read how Germany – at the heart of moves to limit the power of US web companies and their involvement in surveillance – is pressured by American companies and politicians.

 

http://www.thelocal.de/20141126/germany-denies-accusations-of-google-bashing

One Response to “United Nations declares again that mass surveillance threatens the right to privacy.”


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