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Monday, April 6, 2015

UN Again Elevates Privacy as a Human Rights Issue

On March 28, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to establish a special rapporteur on the right to privacy. Special rapporteurs are expert individuals appointed with specific mandates to investigate, monitor, and report on particular human rights concerns that can range from access to water to extrajudicial killings.  Rapporteurs serve three-year terms and report annually to the Council and to the General Assembly.  Brazil, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Mexico sponsored the resolution to establish the special rapporteur, which was adopted unanimously by the 47 members of the Council

U.S. support for the resolution was certainly ironic, given that it was mass surveillance by the NSA that elevated the profile of privacy within the United Nations.  Following the outrage that erupted over Snowden's revelations, the 193 members of the General Assembly unanimously approved, in November 2013, a Brazilian-German declaration entitled The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.  This latest resolution, which re-affirmed the right to privacy articulated in Article 12 of the seminal 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, added the principle that "the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy" and calls upon states to reign in their security operations.  It will be interesting to see how the U.S., a country that still does not regard or protect privacy as a basic human right and shows little appetite for reigning in its surveillance apparatus, fares in the first report of the new special rapporteur, which is expected in September.