UN rights expert condemns modern-day surveillance laws News
UN rights expert condemns modern-day surveillance laws

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy [official website], Joseph Cannataci, presented a report [text, DOC] to the Human Rights Council [official website] on Wednesday condemning modern-day surveillance legislation and expressing grave concerns regarding the threat to privacy rights in the digital age [JURIST backgrounder]. Cannataci particularly directed attention to legislation in the US, UK, France and Germany, stating that “[t]here is little or no evidence to persuade me of either the efficacy or the proportionality of some of the extremely intrusive measures that have been introduced by new surveillance laws” and that he does not support these laws. Cannataci expressed concern that modern surveillance legislation increasingly allow for “the creation, access and analysis of personal data” without adequate authorization and oversight, adding that:

While often “traditional” methods, such as the interception of phone calls and communications in general, are subject to judicial authorisation before the measure can be employed, other techniques such as the collection and analysis of metadata referring to protocols of internet browsing history or data originating from the use of smartphones (location, phone calls, usage of applications, etc.) are subject to much weaker safeguards.

Stressing the the universal nature of privacy rights, Cannataci also criticized the new laws as attempts by politicians [press release] to manipulate the public fear of terrorism and urged member states to “[d]esist from playing the fear card and … prepare themselves to ensure that both domestically and internationally, privacy is respected as a truly universal right – especially when it comes to surveillance carried out on the Internet.”

Data collection and government surveillance continues to be a contentious issue worldwide since Edward Snowden [BBC profile] revealed [JURIST report] the scale of bulk data collection in the US and the UK in 2013. In January a UK advocacy group challenged [JURIST report] the Investigatory Powers Act [PDF], which allows the UK government to record the Internet history of every citizen for up to a year. A month earlier the European Court of Justice [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that “[g]eneral and indiscriminate retention” of e-mails and other electronic communications by governments is illegal. In October a UN expert on free expression said claims that Yahoo allowed the US government to search hundreds of millions of consumer e-mails “raise serious human rights concerns.” [JURIST report]. In January 2016 the Ontario Superior Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that police orders requiring telecommunications companies to hand over cellphone user data breached the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms [text].