The 193-strong Human Rights Committee of the UN General Assembly has approved a landmark resolution demanding internet privacy protection and urging governments to offer redress to people targeted by mass surveillance.
While the UK seems to be yawning its way to an Orwellian dystopia of continual surveillance, much of the rest of the UN’s member countries (at least, those outside the Anglosphere) appear averse to the tendency. The mood of opposition has arisen in response to NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass US surveillance. Ironically, the new “Right to Privacy in the Digital Age” resolution (which was put forward by Germany and Brazil) has been agreed at precisely the same time as the UK Government is pushing for increased surveillance powers.
Bowing to pressure from Anglophone countries (the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), a reference to surveillance via metadata (information created through technology) as an intrusive act was dropped from the resolution. However, an important reference remains, cautioning that “certain types of metadata, when aggregated, can reveal personal information and give an insight into an individual’s behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity.”
The resolution calls on member states to review their surveillance and communications procedures, including their interception of personal data through mass surveillance, in order to uphold the right to privacy under international law.
Germany’s ambassador, Harald Braun, told the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee:
“…without necessary checks, we risk turning into Orwellian states where every step by every citizen is monitored.”
Privacy campaigners have already welcomed the resolution, which will go before the full assembly in December. The “Privacy International” charity said that it was completely at odds with the latest calls from UK parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee for internet companies to monitor their user’s data and content consumption on behalf of state authorities.
In a statement, the charity said:
“The resolution adopted today pushes back against this idea, stating that states must respect the right to privacy when they require disclosure of personal data from companies, as well as when they intercept digital communications of individuals or collect personal data.”
If passed, the resolution will not have the binding power of law. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s a warning shot across the bows for those who think privacy can be traded for security.