Brazil President Dilma Rousseff made the loudest criticism yet by a world leader against surveillance by the U.S. during her address on Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly when she called for the multinational organization to regulate the Internet and prevent online abuses.
During her speech at the U.N., Rousseff criticized the surveillance of international phone calls and email exchanges by the National Security Agency as an "unacceptable" violation of privacy and the sovereignty of other nations. "Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and as such it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations," Rousseff said.
Rousseff made another public protest against the U.S. surveillance on Sept. 17, when she cancelled her state visit to Washington, D.C., which was originally scheduled for October, after documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the agency had spied on Rousseff's personal telephone calls and emails, and those of her aides.
"The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another country," Rousseff said, addressing President Barack Obama and the leaders gathered at the U.N. "The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained. Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups."
Brazil historically precedes the U.S. during speeches opening the U.N. General Assembly, so Obama gave his speech following Rousseff's critical remarks, but he did not mention the NSA.
Rousseff called for the U.N. to establish legal regulations that would prevent abuses on the Internet, including international surveillance and violations of privacy. This global legal system, she said, should be guided by "technical and ethical criteria" to prevent it from being abused for political or corporate gain. It should also have "five guiding principles," Rousseff said, including freedom of speech, multi-lateral governance with transparency, non-discrimination, cultural diversity and network neutrality.
"The time is ripe to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war, through espionage, sabotage and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries," she said.
Rousseff's call for the U.N. to regulate the Internet could stoke controversy among tech companies. Multinational efforts to regulate the Internet failed in 2012, when the U.S. delegation to the World Conference on International Telecommunications rejected a proposed treaty governing telecommunications with the support of dozens of other countries. During the WCIT, in December 2012, nations debated whether a U.N. agency should extend its jurisdiction to include the Internet. Russia and China were among the countries that wanted to use that U.N. agency – known as the International Telecommunication Union – to regulate the Internet, and Google was among the tech companies that opposed those efforts.