US Working Overtime Behind The Scenes To Kill UN Plan To Protect Online Privacy From Snooping

from the of-course-they-are dept

The UN has apparently been considering a proposal pushed by Brazil and Germany, to clarify that basic offline rights to privacy should apply to online information and activities as well. The proposal is targeted at attempts by governments — mainly the US — to ignore privacy issues in spying on people around the globe. Not surprisingly, the US is (quietly) working hard to stop this plan. Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy has the scoop, noting that publicly, the US is pretending to support this in some form:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Comments on “US Working Overtime Behind The Scenes To Kill UN Plan To Protect Online Privacy From Snooping”

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out_of_the_blue says:

Oy. This is the usual triangulation presenting the UN as non-globalist.

This is just political theater on larger scale, pretending there actually IS some opposition. In fact, the UN is a primary agent of globalism. ALL politicians are working to build massive new bureaucracy: there’s only some slight jockeying for who controls it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Oy. This is the usual triangulation presenting the UN as non-globalist.

UN is an engine of globalisation for better or worse. Just saying no to UN categorically is ill-advised political isolationism.

The level of involvement from UN or bureaucracy is increasing, but the jockeying for control is massive. USA do not feel they have enough power over UN. Maybe that is a good thing in several cases like this?

Anonymous Coward says:


“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.”

Prior to Snowden, the US was pushing the line that hacking into a network was an act of war.

Post Snowden Americans can’t even protect themselves from their own military breaking into their own companies computers to spy on their own citizens.

So when you say “the US”, I assume we mean the parts of the military industrial complex that run the country. As opposed to the democracy part, the people, and so on.

Because the democracy bit still believes it has a constitution and due process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hope?

General Alexander:

“Alexander, who spoke at a cybersecurity summit sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce, said any offensive cyber action would need to follow rules of engagement similar to those in other military situations.”

Right, he says one thing and does another.

This is October 2012, and a lot of Congress that would vote on legislation only hear his words without knowing his deeds.

You can see how he can drive the democracy, not so much by forcing votes, but by corralling the congress critters into the path he decides.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hard to tell who hates us more now.

I wonder how it will be dealt with when it isn’t the stereotype Muslim who bombs us next but a ticked off Brazilian Catholic or German Lutheran.

Redefined words, refusal to listen to the courts, claiming to understand the plain language of a law differently than everyone else on the planet…

I’m starting to feel split in my allegiance. Should it be to my fellow citizens or to my leaders? Never a positive sign of the future.

Slinky (profile) says:

Re: Hard to tell who hates us more now.

As a foreigner I can tell you that i don?t think that you need to worry about overseas friendships between our citizens, nor our governments for that matter 🙂 That said, it will probably take some time before we all get over these revelations. Then hopefully we (our countries/nations) will sit down and have a long talk about human rights and privacy, and how to best solve the problem. Hopefully this will lead to mutual international agreements that will benefit the global community. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

It never seems to end

Never though my gov’t would so continuously and so blatantly do everything possible to enrage me, disappoint me, and embarrass me on a daily basis.

I think it’s time for a new national anthem that no longer has “land of the free” in it, and how long until our currency gets changed from saying “In God We Trust” to “In Big Brother We Trust”?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: US working overtime etc...

None of this is new with Obama. Attempting to frame these things in the way you’re doing only makes it more likely that the next president, regardless of party or political leanings, will be able to be just as bad, probably worse.

You should put the blame where it lies: the wholesale corruption of the system.

Stevo says:

Re: US working overtime etc...

This began (or ballooned) at 9/11 and Patriot Act. One of the problems is increased powers and authorities makes peoples jobs easier. Its why they said they needed them. Take Bush at his word, ‘My job would be easier if I were a Dictator’. He said it many times. It is true for him and any president. I don’t think any of them mean really would like to be a dictator, but it would make the job easier, and none of them or any other branch or subdivision would willingly give up extra power or authorities that make their work easier.

Same as any of us at our jobs. Which is why adding powers needs to be more difficult than it is, and needs to have some easy way for being removed.

On a side note, I wish there were some limit to the number of laws allowed. Some limit to number of words/characters/pages allowed per law. Limit to number of themes in a particular law. If there were multiple ‘laws’ in one law split them out separately. Wish there were a branch for removing old, outdated and laws conflicting with other laws and combining duplicated laws or removing them. A branch that would work counter to the legislative branch. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; but nobody knows the law what they are or how many there are or could ever read them all in their lifetime or have recollection of what they just read or understanding of what it meant afterward.

Anonymous Coward says:

we’ll soon see whether the rest of the world has any consideration for the various nations peoples or whether they just keep coming out with the same bull shit that sounds good but in reality want to carry on doing what the USA wants to carry on doing! i hope the people are more highly regarded than the trawling of reams of data that has been basically useless to stopping anything bad from happening!

pissed off says:

Hypocrisy at its best.

So the UN is outraged when our right to privacy is trampled on. But is celebrates taking another right away, circumventing a nations constitution and disarming the citizens of a sovereign nation (the US)through the thinly veiled guise of a “Small arms treaty”?

I dare a UN hum-v to go house to house trying to collect our weapons.

Ellie (profile) says:

Everyone is worried about this

This is all going on at the same time. First there is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). That’s what they renamed it! It was originally Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement or TAFTA. It is so complicated and lengthy that it is difficult to understand any of it. I tried to read the document that Wikileaks kindly provided. I am certain that the opacity is by intent though. The CFC folks wrote this about the implications of TAFTA – TTIP in plain language.

Then I read a super creepy commentary by Vint Cerf via TechCrunch. He met with the head of SANS and two FCC commissioners and lots of other people at an off-the-record “privacy thought leaders” dinner in Washington D.C. a few nights ago. Immediately afterward, he made the creepy announcement about right to privacy being a transitory anomaly, unknown in human civilization until the 1960’s, and an inevitable, necessary casualty of the “digital age”.

And now… THIS! From what I can tell, Colum Lynch seems like a sensible person. This latest not-privacy scheme at the UN is something to be concerned about.

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