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Despite US Opposition, UN Pushes Forward Surveillance Bill of Rights

‘Stop spying on us.’

That is the message being sent by the majority of nations to the world’s most powerful and aggressive surveillance states.

An effort to move forward on the United Nation’s draft agreement on the right to privacy in the digital age met opposition this week from the so-called “Five Eyes” nations—which includes the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—but the efforts to dilute the pact were largely overcome by overwhelming support from the more than one hundred nations demanding stronger protections in the wake of revelations about the behavior of the NSA and other intelligence agencies.

As the Guardian reports:

This week, human rights groups online privacy advocates set a joint letter to the UN urging the stronger language and protections.

Signed by the groups Access Now, Amnesty International, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, and Privacy International, the letter read in part:

And the groups offered these specific point to the world body:

  • Privacy is intrinsically linked to freedom of expression and many other rights;
  • The mere existence of domestic legislation is not all that is required to make surveillance lawful under international law;
  • Indiscriminate, mass surveillance is never legitimate as intrusions on privacy must always be genuinely necessary and proportionate; 
  • When States conduct extraterritorial surveillance, thereby exerting control over the privacy and rights of persons, they have obligations to respect privacy and related rights beyond the limits of their own borders;
  • Privacy is also interfered with even when metadata and other third party communications are intercepted and collected.

Whether or not the draft agreement is adopted, the ability of the UN to curb the worst practices of powerful intelligence agencies from one country illegally spying on the citizens of another will remain a contentious issue.

As the Guardian reports, citing a leaked draft of a U.S. briefing paper on the UN resolution, because the U.S. “does not consider its surveillance activities illegal, it does not have a problem with condemning illegal surveillance.”

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