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The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources.
The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure UN General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won’t tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington – which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying – and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the UN negotiations.
The Brazilian and German initiative seeks to apply the right to privacy, which is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to online communications.
In it, Washington highlights the US objectives in negotiations currently underway at the United Nations and calls for changing the Brazilian and German text so “that references to privacy rights are referring explicitly to States’ obligations under ICCPR and remove suggestion that such obligations apply extraterritorially.”
Washington is also calling for its allies to support amendments that would weaken a UN draft resolution by Brazil and Germany aimed at constraining internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.
The United States claims that it wants to limit the focus to illegal surveillance.
Germany and Brazil submitted a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly earlier in November.
The text calls for an end to excessive electronic surveillance, data collection, and other snooping techniques, in response to recent revelations of US mass surveillance programs.
In public, the US claims to affirm privacy rights. “The United States takes very seriously our international legal obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the US mission to the UN, said in an email to the Cable. “We have been actively and constructively negotiating to ensure that the resolution promotes human rights and is consistent with those obligations.”
Yet behind the scenes, The Cable alleges US diplomatic efforts are aimed at killing “extraterritorial surveillance” provision of the Brazilian and German draft. The publication claims that American negotiators have been pressing their case behind the scenes through their allies.