The UN General Assembly formally approved a major resolution on the right to privacy yesterday, by consensus. The resolution spotlights the privacy violations that are enabled by advances in technology, overbearing government surveillance, and corporate complicity. As communications have gone global, so too must privacy protections. Privacy rights limited by national borders are increasingly meaningless. As we detailed in November, this resolution contains strong language that definitively places mass surveillance under international human rights law. The Human Rights Council has a chance in March to follow through and create a permanent mechanism to safeguard the right to privacy at an international level. The resolution was authored and strongly supported by the governments of Brazil and Germany, which both expressed outrage upon discovery that the personal communications of their leaders were being spied upon by the U.S. government. German Government Human Rights Commissioner Christoph Strässer to the UN said:
We need to be able to take it for granted that our privacy is protected in the virtual world of the internet, just as we do in the real world. We will only be able to fully exploit the vast potential of digital communication if we are sure we can conduct ourselves freely online without our every move being observed and monitored.
One of the most exciting aspects of the resolution is the call for a permanent office on the right to privacy. For that to happen, though, the Human Rights Council in Geneva will have to take action in March by creating a new “special rapporteur” on the right to privacy. If so, in 2015, the world will have its first independent authority examining and promoting the right to privacy with the power to admonish governments for violations.
photo credit: John Gillespie