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(NaturalNews) The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights has released a report that is being praised by some groups for its promotion of the right to privacy in the digital age.
The report [which can be downloaded (PDF) here: http://www.un.org] blasts the mass digital surveillance that has been occurring via U.S. intelligence, as well as through intelligence agencies with the United Kingdom and other great powers.
The report "is issued in response to a resolution passed with unanimous approval by the United Nations General Assembly in November 2013," said the Electronic Freedom Foundation, a non-partisan group that supports enhanced privacy in the Digital Age. "That resolution was introduced by Brazil and Germany and sponsored by 57 member states."
'It's only permissible if necessary and proportionate'
The EFF says the report "turns the tide in the privacy debate" at the UN, as well as "opens the door" for additional substantive criticism and scrutiny of nation states' surveillance practices as they relate to compliance with international human rights law.
The UN report embraces and expounds upon a number of issues that digital privacy rights groups like EFF have long held and advocated, "and which are deeply integrated into our 13 Principles and its legal background paper," documents which have been signed by more than 400 groups and 350,000 individuals. In addition, the UN report supports several recommendations made by EFF and similar organizations, the group said.
"With respect to privacy in the digital age, an interference with an individual's right to privacy is only permissible under international human rights law if its necessary and proportionate," EFF says.
Among other developments, the UN report notes "that the rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communication technologies and at the same time enhances the capacity of governments, companies and individuals to undertake surveillance, interception and data collection, which may violate or abuse human rights, in particular the right to privacy, as set out in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is therefore an issue of increasing concern."
The UN report issues a powerful condemnation of the "collect-it-all" reasoning utilized by sophisticated and technologically advanced intelligence agencies, due to the ever-growing "haystack" of personal information that gets swept up in order to find a few "needles" of actionable intelligence. As noted in the report:
Mass or "bulk" surveillance programmes may thus be deemed to be arbitrary, even if they serve a legitimate aim and have been adopted on the basis of an accessible legal regime. In other words, it will not be enough that the measures are targeted to find certain needles in a haystack; the proper measure is the impact of the measures on the haystack, relative to the harm threatened; namely, whether the measure is necessary and proportionate.
U.S. could be in violation of international law - and the Constitution
In addition, the report condemns any government whose intelligence agencies practice widespread capturing of all data, even in the context of national security, when the collection is indiscriminate, citing international law:
International human rights law provides a clear and universal framework for the promotion and protection of the right to privacy, including in the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance, the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data.
That means that the U.S., especially, could be guilty of violating international laws regarding the protection of privacy, as well as U.S. constitutional protections contained in the Bill of Rights.
"Steps should be taken to ensure that effective and independent oversight regimes and practices are in place, with attention to the right of victims to an effective remedy," the UN report says.
Many of the most recent revelations about nation state spying were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, an American currently living in exile in Russia. Some UN officials do not think that he should be prosecuted.