Monthly Archives: November 2013

Intelligence, Surveillance and Diplomacy in the Digital Age

AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”

Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.

The decision of the German and Brazilian governments to introduce the resolution was driven by expanding accusations of widespread US surveillance abroad, including accusations that it had eavesdropped on the cell phone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. According to one source, such surveillance has been underway for a decade, but President Barack Obama claims he was unaware of the program. Other governments have also weighed in. Spain last week warned of a breakdown in trust as a result of the operations, and the government of France cautioned that such operations could hinder international cooperation on the war on terror.