The UN General Assembly’s Human Rights Committee has announced that a draft resolution sponsored by Brazil and Germany, ‘The Right To Privacy in the Digital Age,’ has been unanimously approved.
The resolution recognises that rapid technological development has created new opportunities for governments and organisations to undertake surveillance and interception in violation of an individual’s right to privacy under article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution expresses a deep concern about the negative impact that surveillance on a mass scale may have on the exercise of an individual’s human rights. The resolution therefore reaffirms the right to privacy, especially an individual’s right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference online. Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota commented, “the resolution establishes for the first time that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium and therefore needs to be protected online as well as offline.”
In a UN press release, independent expert the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue commented, “If States are truly committed to ensuring that all the rights which apply offline continue to be valid online, they urgently need to take concrete steps to secure respect for the privacy of communications as a universal right.” Mr La Rue added, “Blanket indiscriminate surveillance should never be legal…privacy is a recognised human right and for decades there has been a solid understanding of this concept.”
The unanimous adoption of the resolution will mean it will also pass the 193-member General Assembly in December. While the resolution will not be legally binding, it will carry significant political weight to reflect the global consensus on Internet privacy. This symbolic resolution is welcomed in the context of controversial revelations regarding U.S. surveillance activities by the NSA, in particular concerning a number of foreign leaders, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.