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UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism & Human Rights Issues Scathing Report on Mass Surveillance

In Archive, Five Eyes, GCHQ, NSA, Surveillance, UN on October 15, 2014 at 12:52 PM


In December 2013, the United Nations top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the “Special Rapporteur”) Ben Emmerson QC launched an investigation into the surveillance powers of the NSA and GCHQ following Edward Snowden’s revelations. Today Emmerson’s formal report, issued Sept. 23 to the U.N. General Assembly, has been released. In it Emmerson condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. The report calls for far greater transparency along with new protections for privacy in the digital age.


“The hard truth is that the use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether.”

“Amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications … it is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for States to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately.”

“Individuals have the right to share information and ideas with one another without interference by the State, secure in the knowledge that their communication will reach and be read by the intended recipients alone.”

“States increasingly rely on the private sector to facilitate digital surveillance. This is not confined to the enactment of mandatory data retention legislation. Corporates [sic] have also been directly complicit in operationalizing bulk access technology through the design of communications infrastructure that facilitates mass surveillance.”

“Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by article 17. In the absence of a formal derogation from States’ obligations under the Covenant, these programs pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.”

“The States engaging in mass surveillance have so far failed to provide a detailed and evidence-based public justification for its necessity, and almost no States have enacted explicit domestic legislation to authorize its use.”

“The arguments in favor of a complete abrogation of the right to privacy on the Internet have not been made publicly by the States concerned or subjected to informed scrutiny and debate … States deploying this technology retain a monopoly of information about its impact … a form of conceptual censorship … that precludes informed debate.”

“Ever present danger of ‘purpose creep,’ by which measures justified on counter-terrorism grounds are made available for use by public authorities for much less weighty public interest purposes … a wide range of public bodies have access to communications data, for a wide variety of purposes, often without judicial authorization or meaningful independent oversight.”

“The Special Rapporteur concurs with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that where States penetrate infrastructure located outside their territorial jurisdiction, they remain bound by their obligations under the Covenant. Moreover, article 26 of the Covenant prohibits discrimination on grounds of, inter alia, nationality and citizenship. The Special Rapporteur thus considers that States are legally obliged to afford the same privacy protection for nationals and non-nationals and for those within and outside their jurisdiction. Asymmetrical privacy protection regimes are a clear violation of the requirements of the Covenant.”

“Risk that systematic interference with the security of digital communications will continue to proliferate without any serious consideration being given to the implications of the wholesale abandonment of the right to online privacy.”

“Permitting the government to routinely collect the calling records of the entire nation fundamentally shifts the balance of power between the state and its citizens.”

h/t Glenn Greenwald/TheIntercept

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