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UN backing universal privacy right

Date

Peter James Spielmann

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UN

Brazil says the resolution establishes human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and need to be protected online and offline.

The UN General Assembly's human rights committee has unanimously adopted a resolution sponsored by Brazil and Germany to protect the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance, following months of reports about US eavesdropping abroad.

The symbolic resolution, which seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people, followed a series of disclosures of US eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that surprised and angered allies.

Brazil's Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota said the resolution "establishes for the first time that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium, and therefore need to be protected online and offline".

The resolution expresses deep concern at "the negative impact" that such surveillance, "in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights".

German Ambassador Peter Wittig asked: "Is the human right to privacy still protected in our digital world? And should everything that is technologically feasible, be allowed?"

The consensus adoption of the resolution means it will also unanimously pass the whole 193-member General Assembly in December. General Assembly resolutions aren't legally binding, but reflect world opinion and carry political weight.

The United States did not fight the measure after it engaged in lobbying last week with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which comprise the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group, to dilute some of the draft resolution's language.

The key compromise dropped the contention that the domestic and international interception and collection of communications and personal data, "in particular massive surveillance," may constitute a human rights violation.

US delegate Elizabeth Cousens told the committee that the United States welcomed Brazil and Germany's sponsorship of the resolution and was pleased to support "privacy rights and the right to freedom of expression".

The draft resolution directs the UN human rights chief to report to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on the protection and promotion of privacy "in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance... including on a mass scale".

Last week, five major human rights and privacy groups - Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access and Privacy International - said this will guarantee that the privacy issue stays on the front burner at the United Nations.

Human Rights Watch general counsel Dina PoKempner said that though the resolution was "watered down" it was still a "vital first step toward stigmatising indiscriminate global surveillance as a wide-scale violation of human rights".

The director of the human rights programme at the American Civil Liberties Union, Jamil Dakwar, said: "Yet again, the US is paying lip service to human rights when it comes to holding intelligence services accountable overseas. It is regrettable that the US is investing time to circumvent the universal human right to privacy rather than setting a new course by ending dragnet surveillance."

The US has been trying to calm tensions with Brazil and Germany over the reported spying.

Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington after classified documents leaked by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden showed that the NSA hacked the computer network of Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras and scooped up data on emails and telephone calls flowing through the country.

Merkel and other European leaders expressed anger after reports that the NSA allegedly monitored Merkel's cellphone and swept up millions of French telephone records. 

AP

8 comments

  • Rallying against unlawful surveillance is all well and good. But the real problem is that because those undertaking the surveillance are the same people who write the laws around surveillance, any surveillance they undertake is completely lawful, no matter how intrusive, unethical or unjust.

    John Oliver delivered a fantastic line on The Daily Show when the NSA scandal first broke, that sums up a lot of people's thoughts on the matter:
    "Mr. President, no one is saying you broke any laws, we're just saying it's a little bit weird you didn't have to."

    Commenter
    Markus
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 27, 2013, 11:34AM
    • "The key compromise dropped the contention that the domestic and international interception and collection of communications and personal data, "in particular massive surveillance," may constitute a human rights violation." So it's next to useless! Did the Stasi violate human rights with their massive data collection effort? Damn right they did! What the hell makes modern era governments and their relevant spy agencies think that they are not doing the same? The justification for such massive data collection by the Stasi beneath the East German government was "National Security measures"..sound familiar?

      Commenter
      PaxUs
      Location
      Austerelia
      Date and time
      November 27, 2013, 2:17PM
      • "The key compromise dropped the contention that the domestic and international interception and collection of communications and personal data, "in particular massive surveillance," may constitute a human rights violation."

        The only sentence that really maters.

        Of course the US and its allies didn't object, they'd already achieved their goal. They successfully made sure that this resolution does nothing to condemn or hamper the exact massive dragnet surveillance of international data that caused the resolution in the first place.

        Commenter
        DM
        Date and time
        November 27, 2013, 2:27PM
        • The whole issue then relies on the definition of" indiscriminate" .And thats discrimination,in itself.Governments and private industries should have zero right to invade or intrude on anyones privacy,just as people should have no right to intrude or invade theirs.It should be equal rights.

          Commenter
          Kane
          Date and time
          November 27, 2013, 2:50PM
          • The dictators running Iran and Nth Korea love this.
            Hmm, I bet drug dealers, paedophile networks and unions in Aus will love this too.

            Gosh, and remember gillard's staffer manipulating native peoples through a mobile phone tip-off. Yep, this now plays right into plibersek's manipulative hands.

            mark scott will now claim he helped make this happen with the impetus of collective awareness (as deemed necessary for us all) but funnily enough, he won't lay claim to more drowning deaths on account of, well, cowardice.

            # Just an observation but when that abc worker was raped and murdered and the progressive left began howling in Vic because their lenience toward criminals had turned round and bitten them, there was maybe 10 minutes of real introspection from northcote and brunswick's lefties.

            Next time there's a bali bombing and some labor voter's kid is blown to little pieces, will the enlightened dad even bother to question that it was his own attempts to curb surveillance that prevented the listening base at Pine Gap from checking into the personal calls of terrorists ?

            Commenter
            Alex
            Location
            Finley
            Date and time
            November 27, 2013, 4:47PM
            • *sigh*

              There's always one.

              If the price of freedom is giving up freedom, then what's the point in the first place?

              Commenter
              DM
              Date and time
              November 27, 2013, 8:00PM
            • @dm

              Hmm, I suggest you ignore all DFAT travel warnings and just go wherever you please, seeing as how intel gets in the way of your freedom- but please, just don't expect Australians to have to pay your bloody ransom.

              Commenter
              Alex
              Location
              Finley
              Date and time
              November 28, 2013, 10:52AM
            • Some people wear their chains like a nice wooly jumper.

              Commenter
              Caser
              Date and time
              November 29, 2013, 6:59PM
          Comments are now closed
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