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UN sets up privacy rapporteur role in wake of Snowden leaks

“Although the right to privacy is enshrined in international law – it is set out in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – it has largely been ignored and is low on the list of UN priorities.

The Snowden revelations changed this dynamic, producing a strong reaction in Germany, given its history of surveillance by the Stasi secret police and the disclosure that the NSA had hacked the mobile phone of the chancellor, Angela Merkel. In Brazil, the president, Dilma Rousseff, cancelled a visit to Washington in protest over spying on her country.

The resolution, ‘The right to privacy in the digital age’, notes that ‘the rapid pace of technological development enables individuals all over the world to use new information and communications technology 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’ and describes the issue as one of increasing concern.

It expresses deep concern ‘at the negative impact that surveillance and/or interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of communications, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights’.

The campaign group Privacy International has been lobbying for such a resolution since 2013. Tomaso Falchetta, legal officer for PI, said: ‘Now, perhaps more than ever, we need a dedicated individual to hold those accountable who wish to violate privacy, whether it is through surveillance, indiscriminate data collection, or other techniques that infringe on this important right.’”

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