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United Nations needs to deal with excessive spying: Germany, Brazil

Revelations of U.S. global spying have raised digital privacy protection questions the United Nations needs to address, Germany and Brazil said on Thursday as they introduced a resolution calling for an end to excessive electronic surveillance.

The draft resolution expressed deep concern "at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance of communications."

It does not name specific countries, but comes after former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden released details of global spying by the U.S. National Security Agency. It has been charged that the NSA monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone.

The United States has said it is not monitoring Merkel's communications and will not do so in the future, but has not commented on possible past surveillance.

Germany and Brazil introduced the resolution to the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues. The committee is due to vote on the draft later this month and it is then expected to be put to a vote in the 193-member General Assembly in December, diplomats said.

"Reports about mass surveillance of private communication and the collection of personal data have alarmed people all over the world," German U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig told the Third Committee on Thursday.

"They ask a legitimate question: Is their right to privacy still protected effectively in our digital world?" he said.

General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, unlike resolutions of the 15-nation Security Council. But assembly resolutions that enjoy broad international support can carry significant moral and political weight.

U.N. Report

"Privacy is of the essence in safeguarding individuals against the abuse from power," Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, told the Third Committee.

"Brazil believes it is crucial for the international community to engage in a serious in-depth debate on how to uphold certain fundamental rights of human beings in the digital age, including in light of concerns with national security and criminal activity," he said.

The draft resolution is likely to undergo changes as it is debated in the Third Committee. Ten countries, including North Korea, agreed to co-sponsor the resolution on Thursday, but that list could grow before the vote.

It currently calls on U.N. member states "to take measures to put an end to violations of these rights and to create the conditions to prevent such violations, including by ensuring that relevant national legislation complies with their obligations under international human rights law."

It also asks U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay to prepare and publish a report "on the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data."

When the draft resolution was circulated to Third Committee members on Friday, the U.S. mission to the United Nations said it would "evaluate the text on its merits."

Last week, the United Nations said the United States had pledged not to spy on the world body's communications after a report that the NSA had gained access to the U.N. video conferencing system.

[Source: By Michelle Nichols, Reuters, United Nations, 07Nov13]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
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