News / Science & Technology

UN: Digital Snooping Becoming the Norm

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
Lisa Schlein

A new United Nations report warns mass digital surveillance poses a threat to peoples’ right to privacy and is becoming a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, whose office produced the report, is calling for stronger safeguards against this mass surveillance to protect against violations of human rights.

The report warns that digital snooping is increasing and occurring in countries all over the world. It says the incidences may be greater in governments equipped with better technology.

But the report also says oversight of digital surveillance programs in most countries is inadequate and, therefore, open to abuse.

Pillay says states must show their surveillance programs are being used for legitimate law enforcement or intelligence purposes, and that it is up to government officials to prove these programs do not arbitrarily or unlawfully gather private information.

She says states have an obligation to balance their need for security with their need to protect people’s right to privacy.

“I, of course, support the efforts made in the United States and other countries to safeguard all of us from acts of terrorism," said Pillay. "After all states have an obligation to protect all their citizens against the harm of terrorism. On the other hand, what are the checks and balances? What kind of safeguards should be in place and how should states be encouraged to update their laws and so on to keep pace with these developments?”

The report notes strong evidence of governments' growing reliance on the private sector to conduct and facilitate digital surveillance. Pillay says she is disturbed by the methods governments are using to collect metadata on their own citizens as well as on foreigners.

“Some governments have reportedly threatened to ban services of telecommunications companies unless given direct access to telecommunication traffic. Others have tapped fiber optic cables … for surveillance purposes, or required companies systematically to disclose bulk information on customers and employees. Some have used communication surveillance to target political opposition or dissidents," she said.

Pillay warns that companies which supply data to a state in violation of human rights law risk being complicit or involved with human rights abuses.

The commissioner also stressed the importance of protecting so-called whistleblowers, people who disclose human rights violations. She refused to say whether intelligence analyst Edward Snowden should be pardoned for having revealed the mass surveillance program being run by the United States National Security Agency.

Snowden’s revelations go to the core of the debate regarding the need for transparency, and for that, everyone owes him a debt, she said.

The U.N. report raises concerns about surveillance programs based on racial profiling or which target certain ethnic or religious groups. It says such practices violate international human rights law.


You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous
July 16, 2014 11:28 PM
Really, with all due respect the UN High Comissioner for Human Rights should not be a "digital policeman". Since when has digital snooping become more dangerous than an AK 47 bullet, especially in Africa.? Real human rights in Africa is what she should be focusing on and justice at the Hague instead of avoiding the realities of life.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs