Brazil and Germany are pushing for a UN inquiry scrutinizing the US National Security Agency (NSA) for possible violations of privacy rights in surveillance activities at home and abroad.
Diplomats from the two countries yesterday began circulating a draft resolution calling on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, according to a copy obtained by reporters.
They began work on the text last week amid expressions of outrage over revelations that the NSA may have tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and eavesdropped on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s private communications.
Reports about the surveillance were based on material provided by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who yesterday offered to testify before the German parliament. Merkel sent a team of intelligence officials to the White House this week to try to build trust with the US, according to the chancellery.
The draft text will be orally presented next week before the UN General Assembly committee on social and humanitarian affairs, said a UN diplomat involved in the process, who asked not to be identified as a matter of policy.
The US has received the draft and will evaluate the text on its merits, said a US official by e-mail, asking not to be identified citing policy.
German and Brazilian delegations have held meetings with other European and Latin American countries, so far securing initial interest from France, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela as possible cosponsors of the resolution, according to a second UN diplomat who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
Over the next two years, the UN human rights commissioner should present a report each year identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices on how to address security concerns without violating international human rights law, specifically monitoring digital communications and the use of other intelligence technologies, according to the text.
Though resolutions adopted by the General Assembly are not binding, the Brazilian-German proposal would provide a forum for dozens of countries to express discontent with the US surveillance program.
While concerns about public security may justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information, state surveillance activities must be carried out in full compliance with international human rights law, the draft resolution states.
It also calls on nations to review their procedures, practices and legislation regarding surveillance and to establish independent national oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability.
In testimony this week before the US House intelligence committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said allies have spied on US leaders just as the US has gathered information on them.
It would be invaluable for us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are, how that would impact us across a whole range of issues, Clapper said at the Oct. 29 hearing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Oct. 31 that some US surveillance reached too far and that he and US President Barack Obama had learned of some efforts that were on automatic pilot.