from the of-course-they-are dept
But privately, American diplomats are pushing hard to kill a provision of the Brazilian and German draft which states that "extraterritorial surveillance" and mass interception of communications, personal information, and metadata may constitute a violation of human rights. The United States and its allies, according to diplomats, outside observers, and documents, contend that the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does not apply to foreign espionage.While none of this creates any binding requirements, it does put tremendous pressure on countries to comply -- and could lead to more specific language in various treaties and other agreements as well. It also allows other countries to stand firmly on the moral high ground that the US pretends to stand on, in order to scold the US for its activities.
In recent days, the United States circulated to its allies a confidential paper highlighting American objectives in the negotiations, "Right to Privacy in the Digital Age -- U.S. Redlines." It 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." In other words: America wants to make sure it preserves the right to spy overseas.
The U.S. paper also calls on governments to promote amendments that would weaken Brazil's and Germany's contention that some "highly intrusive" acts of online espionage may constitute a violation of freedom of expression. Instead, the United States wants to limit the focus to illegal surveillance -- which the American government claims it never, ever does. Collecting information on tens of millions of people around the world is perfectly acceptable, the Obama administration has repeatedly said. It's authorized by U.S. statute, overseen by Congress, and approved by American courts.
The US, of course, likes to pretend that it needs to violate everyone's privacy to catch a few bad guys. There is little reason to suggest this is true. Nothing in the proposal appears to stop legitimate law enforcement, espionage and surveillance efforts, targeted at actual people involved in criminal or terrorist activity. The issue is scooping up everyone's data "just because." That's not what US negotiators are saying, obviously. Instead, they argue they need to scoop up everyone's data to make the world safer by going after "international terrorists."
The US's stance here is fairly obvious. It wants to pretend to retain the moral high ground on this issue, and the way to do that is to try to stop the rest of the world from pointing out that it's been on the low road for quite some time. But trying to redraw the map doesn't change the reality.