Internet privacy, now along with internet access, is a human right according to the UN

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year! I am kicking off this blog with a post about internet privacy and human rights.

Motivated by their outrage over revelations of U.S. internet spying, as revealed by leaked information about the NSA's dragnet-style internet surveillance programs, Brazil and Germany co-sponsored a resolution in the UN General Assembly's Human Rights Committee. The resolution, titled‘The Right To Privacy in the Digital Age,' was passed last month with overwhelming support.
The resolution recognises that rapid technological development has created new opportunities for governments and organisations to undertake surveillance and interception in violation of an individual’s right to privacy under article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution expresses a deep concern about the negative impact that surveillance on a mass scale may have on the exercise of an individual’s human rights. The resolution therefore reaffirms the right to privacy, especially an individual’s right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful interference online. Brazil’s Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota commented, “the resolution establishes for the first time that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium and therefore needs to be protected online as well as offline.”

In a UN press release, independent expert the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression Frank La Rue commented, “If States are truly committed to ensuring that all the rights which apply offline continue to be valid online, they urgently need to take concrete steps to secure respect for the privacy of communications as a universal right.” Mr La Rue added, “Blanket indiscriminate surveillance should never be legal…privacy is a recognised human right and for decades there has been a solid understanding of this concept.”
Image Credit: Dave Hoffman at Syracuse University
This, in addition to the UN's recommendation that internet access itself be considered a human right, means that everyone is entitled have internet access to blog, organize demonstrations, and watch weird YouTube videos without anyone looking over their shoulder. In theory, at least - the resolution is not legally-binding.

Unfortunately, many of the nations who so enthusiastically supported the resolution out of resentment for the U.S. spying programs will most likely not be inclined to grant their citizens the same freedoms. The resolution makes an important point, however, in that exercising freedoms of speech and protest, which are increasingly done through digital means - particularly for people in remote areas - also require privacy so that they can be done without fear of repercussions.

H/T EIN Human Rights

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