U.N. Votes on Digital Rights, Wags Finger at U.S.

The flag of the United Nations is blown in the wind in front of their German headquarters on July 11, 2006 in Bonn, Germany. U.N. General-secretary Kofi Annan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel inaugurated the United Nations campus, the German U.N. headquarters, in the former West German capital of Bonn
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
Dec. 20, 2013, 9:42 a.m.

The United Na­tions de­clared on­line pri­vacy a world­wide hu­man right this week, a fin­ger wag at the U.S. gov­ern­ment’s sur­veil­lance pro­gram.

The U.N. Gen­er­al As­sembly voted un­an­im­ously Thursday on a res­ol­u­tion ur­ging the 193 mem­ber states to reel in their data-col­lec­tion ef­forts and step up in­de­pend­ent over­sight and trans­par­ency for these pro­gram, re­ports the Los Angeles Times.

The res­ol­u­tion also calls on U.N. High Com­mis­sion­er for Hu­man Rights Navi Pil­lay to sub­mit a re­port on the state of di­git­al pri­vacy to the UN­HCR and Gen­er­al As­sembly. The res­ol­u­tion “af­firms that the same rights that people have off­line must also be pro­tec­ted on­line, in­clud­ing the right to pri­vacy.” It does not spe­cific­ally men­tion the U.S., but the un­an­im­ous vote re­flects grow­ing in­ter­na­tion­al fears over in­di­vidu­al pri­vacy spurred by the the on­go­ing rev­el­a­tions about the U.S. di­git­al-spy­ing pro­gram.

Pil­lay praised whistle-blowers, spe­cific­ally Ed­ward Snowden, for their role in pro­tect­ing hu­man rights earli­er this year.

“The right to pri­vacy, the right to ac­cess to in­form­a­tion, and free­dom of ex­pres­sion are closely linked,” Pil­lay said in de­fense of whis­tleblowers. “The pub­lic has the demo­crat­ic right to take part in the pub­lic af­fairs, and this right can­not be ef­fect­ively ex­er­cised by solely re­ly­ing on au­thor­ized in­form­a­tion.”

Many na­tions have con­demned the NSA sur­veil­lance pro­gram in­de­pend­ently, but this is the first united, in­ter­na­tion­al re­sponse to the wide­spread data col­lec­tion. Al­though the U.N.’s vote is not en­force­able, its is a ref­er­en­dum on in­ter­na­tion­al pub­lic opin­ion.

The res­ol­u­tion was drawn up by two na­tions whose lead­ers were the most vis­ible vic­tims of the NSA’s spy­ing pro­gram: Ger­many and Brazil. Snowden re­cently asked Brazil to grant him asylum in ex­change for his as­sist­ance in in­vest­ig­at­ing U.S. sur­veil­lance of Brazili­an cit­izens.

The Elec­tron­ic Fron­ti­er Found­a­tion called the vote a “gi­ant leap against sur­veil­lance.”

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