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Germany, Brazil spying action

November 8, 2013

Brazil and Germany have presented a resolution to the UN General Assembly calling for an end to undue electronic spying. The document urges all countries to extend internationally guaranteed rights to privacy.

Peter Wittig
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Revelations of surveillance of foreign leaders by the US has raised Internet and other electronic privacy protection questions the United Nations needs to look at, Germany and Brazil said on Thursday as they tabled a draft resolution calling for the cessation of excessive electronic surveillance.

The document, tabled before the UN General Assembly's Third Committee which deals with issues of human rights, outlined concern "at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications."

Furthermore, it called for an expansion of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to include electronic communications and privacy.

"It affirms the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular the right to privacy," the document read.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, does however, allow for those guarantees to be waived "for the protection of national security or of public order."

The current proposition asks UN member states "to take measures to put an end to violation of these rights and to create the conditions to prevent such violations, including by ensuring that relevant national legislation complies with their obligations under international human rights law."

The draft resolution followed the release of classified documents by US contractor Edward Snowden detailing global surveillance operations by the US National Security Agency on foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff. The document did not point the finger at the US or any other country as the wrongdoer.

The US denied the allegations saying it is not monitoring Merkel's communications and would not do so in the future. No statement has been made on the possibility of surveillance in the past.

Drawing the line

Introducing the resolution, German Ambassador Peter Wittig said: "today, there seem to be hardly any technical limitations for accessing, storing or combining personal data. But should everything that is technically feasible also be allowed? Where do we draw the line between legitimate security concerns and the individual right to privacy? And how do we ensure that human rights are effectively protected both offline and online?"

"Reports about mass surveillance of private communication and the collection of personal data have alarmed people all over the world," Wittig told the committee.

"They ask a legitimate question: is their right to privacy still protected effectively in our digital world?" he added.

Brazil's Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota argued, "in the absence of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of opinion and expression, and no effective democracy."

"Brazil believes it is crucial for the international community to engage in a serious in-depth debate on how to uphold certain fundamental rights of human beings in the digital-age, including in light of concerns with national security and criminal activity," he added.

US officials refused to comment on the draft document.

Following the proposal, 10 nations, including North Korea, agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, but that number is expected to grow ahead of a committee vote later this month, diplomats said. Should the vote succeed, the draft resolution will be put to a ballot in the 193-member General Assembly in December.

jlw/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)