World moves to rein in US spying

Felipe Crespo 2013- Recorded with the woodcut technique over former employee of the CIA, Edward Snowden.
Felipe Crespo 2013- Recorded with the woodcut technique over former employee of the CIA, Edward Snowden.

The world is fighting back against overweening US surveillance of private global communications, such as phone calls and emails, with moves to create a new protocol to human rights agreements.

World moves to rein in US spying

There is a growing international attempt to rein in mass surveillance by the USA.

Led by the Germans, a loose coalition of privacy chiefs from countries across the world is pushing to update an influential international human rights treaty that enshrines the right to privacy.

They want to protect citizens’ right to privacy in the internet age.

The aim is an additional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a 1966 multilateral treaty that is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is endorsed by more than 160 countries, including the USA.  Article 17 of the ICCPR already states that citizens should not be “subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with [their] privacy, family, home or correspondence” and contains a vague so-called “general comment” that says the collection of information from computers must be “regulated by law.”

The German government wants to broaden and update Article 17, adding an additional protocol for the “digital sphere” that specifically covers the conduct of spy agencies. It may as well be named the “Snowden Protocol,” Ryan Gallagher writes in Slate, as it is being put forward as a direct result of the backlash sparked by the NSA whistleblower’s disclosures.

Data protection chiefs in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein were quick to back the plan, which the German government says was initially proposed in a letter it sent to other EU member states in July. Late in September, however, the proposal received a major boost at theInternational Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Warsaw, Poland.

The annual conference was attended by a diverse selection of privacy and data protection officials from across the world, with representatives attending from countries including Japan, New Zealand, France, Slovenia, Uruguay, Belgium, Ireland, Finland, Spain, Australia, Germany, Burkina Faso, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

During a closed session at the conference open only to the privacy chiefs, a resolution was put forward for a vote on the proposal to update Article 17. They voted overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, recognizing a need to “create globally applicable standards for data protection and the protection of privacy in accordance with the rule of law.”

Notably, only one country did not approve of the resolution: the United States.

1 October 2013

See also: After Snowden Leaks, Countries Want Digital Privacy Enshrined in Human Rights Treaty

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