Unanimously against surveillance: UN Resolution adopted!


EFF: “One small step for privacy, one giant leap against surveillance.”

The 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved a UN privacy resolution entitled “The right to privacy in the digital age.” This is the first adopted document after 25 years that deals with the right to privacy. Brazil and Germany jointly proposed this resolution on online privacy because of the governments around the world.

We are especially proud of the outcome of the UN’s negotiations because of the successful initiative launched by SHARE Foundation – SHARE Defense and the Partners for Democratic Change Serbia in which we called upon the Republic of Serbia to vote on the Resolution. The initiative was supported by 33 SCOs, as well as media and journalist organizations.

This Resolution requests of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit a report to the General Assembly on the protection of the right to privacy, including the context of domestic and extraterritorial surveillance and/or interception of digital communications and collection of personal data, including on a mass scale.

The Resolution also demands that even if the interception and collection of personal data may be justified by protection of national security, it must be done by the states’ ensuring the full and effective implementation of all their obligations under international human rights law.

This Resolution is also an opportunity for the privacy issue to be further discussed in the UN.

Although it is not legally binding for member countries of the UN the importance of this Resolution is undisputed and it is certainly the first step towards adopting a legal binding protection of privacy in the digital age.

This is not the first time a UN Resolution is considered part of customary law, which is one of the main sources of international law, giving that voting in the General Assembly best reflects practices of countries, as well as their position on the binding nature of the standards to be adopted. Having this in mind, we could say that the unanimous adoption of this Resolution is proof that the member countries are aware of the necessity of protecting privacy in the digital age.

NGOs that deal with protecting the right to privacy, such as SHARE Defense, EFF and Access, have already developed a set of principles, called the 13 International Principles for the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance, in order to put an end to unauthorized and mass surveillance of Internet citizens. The Principles have already been supported by 300 organizations from around the world and now every person can sign the petition and give their vote against mass surveillance.

The last time that the right to privacy was examined by a multinational division of the UN was in 1988. It therefore represents an excellent opportunity for States to update their understandings of international human rights law in the context of the massive technological advances that have taken place over the last 25 years.