UN creates privacy rights watchdog

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood / Staff

Mass surveillance, particularly indiscriminate US and UK collection of online data, requires the prompt attention of the United Nation’s new privacy watchdog, Amnesty International said today.

Amnesty International and other NGOs had called for the creation of a ‘Special Rapporteur’ on the right to privacy, a new expert role set up today by the UN Human Rights Council, in response to efforts to expand surveillance powers and bulk collection of personal data, most recently in France and Canada. Governments are prohibited from arbitrary interference with peoples’ right to privacy by international law.

“UN action is essential to analyse the impact of surveillance on privacy and free speech. Security agencies show a misguided and ever-growing appetite for data collection; someone has to watch the watchers,” said Peter Splinter, Amnesty International Representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

The work of the Special Rapporteur will cover privacy issues both online and offline, including surveillance, police search and seizure, state restrictions on personal relationships, and intrusions on privacy by businesses.

The UN’s independent special rapporteurs investigate whether government laws and practice respect human rights in areas and countries of global concern. Their remits include torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial and summary executions, free speech and extreme poverty amongst others. They carry out fact-finding missions, investigate complaints and issue reports analysing issues and highlighting rights violations.

Privacy International, Amnesty International and many other NGOs formed a global NGO coalition to call on the UN to create such a privacy watchdog on 16 February and 13 March.

On 18 March, Amnesty International launched the global anti-surveillance campaign #UnfollowMe, calling on governments to ban mass surveillance.