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UN Internet Privacy Resolution

On Tuesday, November 26, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution which will protect the right to privacy against unlawful surveillance. This followed a media frenzy regarding US surveillance abroad.

Though symbolic, this resolution seeks to extend personal privacy rights to all people. It followed a series of disclosures of US eavesdropping on foreign leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Unsurprisingly, it was Brazil and Germany that sponsored the UN resolution.

Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguilar Patriota commented that 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 unanimous adoption of the resolution means the UN will also unanimously pass the whole 193-member General Assembly, to be held in December. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, however they do reflect world opinion and lend political weight.

The United States was active in lobbying efforts with Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in mid-November, as it wanted to lighten up some of the measures outlined in the draft resolution. However, it didn’t fight the measure afterwards.

The main compromise involved dropping 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.

Other Voices

The week prior, five major human rights and privacy groups (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access and Privacy International) said that this would guarantee that the privacy issue remains on the United Nations’ docket.

Dina Pokempner, the general counsel for Human Rights Watch, mentioned that although the resolution was “watered down,” it still remains a “vital first step toward stigmatizing indiscriminate global surveillance as a wide-scale violation of human rights.”

From the American Civil Liberties Union, director Jamik 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.”

Summary

The United Nation’s resolution on internet privacy comes in the wake of reports of surveillance by the US government on international leaders. The resolution was adopted and will unanimously pass the General Assembly. Though largely symbolic, it does seek to extend personal privacy rights to all people.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Europe (CIPP/E), a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Human rights laws (I.A.b.)
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