UN makes the connection between surveillance and free speech

Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, has tabled a report (PDF) to the UN Human Rights Council that makes a connection between surveillance and free expression. This is a first in the UN, and the meat of it is that it establishes the principle that countries that engage in bulk, warrantless Internet surveillance are violating their human rights obligations to ensure freedom of expression:

La Rue reminds States that in order to meet their human rights obligations, they must ensure that the rights to free expression and privacy—and metadata protection in particular—are at the heart of their communications surveillance frameworks. To this end, the Special Rapporteur urges states to review national laws regulating surveillance and update and strengthen laws and legal standards:

Communications surveillance should be regarded as a highly intrusive act that potentially interferes with the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and threatens the foundations of a democratic society.

Legislation must stipulate that State surveillance of communications must only occur under the most exceptional circumstances and exclusively under the supervision of an independent judicial authority.

At present, access to communications data has been conducted by a variety of public bodies for a broad range of purposes, often without judicial authorization and independent oversight. Such overbroad access threatens basic democratic values.

Internet Surveillance and Free Speech: the United Nations Makes the Connection (via /.)

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  1. “Legislation must stipulate that State surveillance of communications must only occur under the most exceptional circumstances and exclusively under the supervision of an independent judicial authority.”

    Well! Terrorism is exceptional circumstances, and we can’t find all the terrorists and the terrorists friends and the terrorist friends of friends and the terrorists friends of friends of friends and the terrorist friends of friends of friends and so on without surveilling everyone! And the President has OK’d it, so we’re totally OK to proceed! Hooray!

  2. Great. Now that the relevance of the UN is declining, they can finally speak the truth.

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  3. Very nice.

    But remember the “UN” isn’t a thing. Just considering the bureacracy and staff, there are a large number of committees and sub-organizations, each with its own bias. Some are staffed by amazing humanitarians and brilliant scholars; others by bigots, time-servers, and criminals. And this isn’t even considering the actual national representatives and their frequently changing governments and positions.

    So there is no monolithic UN to actually hold any particular position. No doubt at the same time as this pronouncement, another committee someplace has the opposite opinion — no doubt one staffed by Russians, British, and Americans, all governments that love domestic surveillance….

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