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UN: Independent Security Expert To Monitor and Report On Online Privacy

Monday, May 11th, 2015

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the top body responsible for protecting human rights in the world, has passed a resolution approving the appointment of an independent expert who would be monitoring, investigating and reporting on privacy issues and violations occurring throughout the world. As I have reported several times in the past, UN considers mass surveillance conducted by intelligence agencies to be illegal and has even passed resolutions in the past to protect privacy of ordinary citizens. However, this is the first time that the world body has decided to appoint an expert to look after the privacy matters of people from across the world.

As per the resolution approved by the UNHRC, a Special Rapporteur would be appointed to look after the right to privacy for a period of three years. Germany and Brazil acted as the driving force behind the resolution although it was co-sponsored by more than 60 countries from the Americas, Asia, Europe and Africa. The appointment of an independent expert represents a major victory for civil liberty groups and privacy activists since Special Rapporteurs are only appointed under special circumstances. The passing of the resolution also indicates that the world body now sees privacy as a basic human right.

It is not really surprising to see that Germany and Brazil pushed for the resolution. Both these countries have consistently demonstrated an unwavering commitment towards privacy and have expressed concerns in the past regarding the data collection practices of the intelligence agencies and private companies. It is also not a coincidence that these two nations were victims of extensive surveillance and even their top leaders were not spared by the US spy agency NSA. The passing of the resolution represents months of hard work and negotiations although it was approved unanimously by the U.N. council.

The Special Rapporteur will act as an authoritative voice for all matters related to privacy. The appointed candidate will ensure that the government bodies and private organizations from around the world adhere to the right to privacy, investigate violations as well as make recommendations to ensure compliance with this basic human right. Although the UNHRC has not selected a candidate for the post so far, the body is likely to complete the process by June’ 2015.

As expected, civil liberty and privacy groups have welcomed the decision of the world body. The Center for Democracy and Technology has stated that the appointment of a Special Rapporteur is a monumental step that will ensure that invasive surveillance practices of the intelligence agencies does not curtail the right to privacy or the right to freedom of expression. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has mentioned in a release that the expert would be responsible for analysis, research and monitoring of the right to privacy throughout the world. The watchdog further added that the Rapporteur would also gather inputs from all relevant stakeholders and issue guidance to the governments and organizations regarding its interpretation on the right to privacy.

May 11, 2015

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