The United Nations may soon extend its rules on human rights to digital privacy, which could increase political pressure on the National Security Agency and agencies in other countries to establish limits on surveillance for a cloud computing era.
Diplomats from Germany and Brazil helped drive the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee on Tuesday to pass a resolution called "the right to privacy in the digital age," which does not mention the NSA or any agency but takes aim at the "negative impact" of mass surveillance. The 193-member U.N. General Assembly is slated to vote on the non-binding resolution in December.
Both Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the U.S. following reports that the NSA spied on their personal communications. Rousseff addressed the U.N. General Assembly in September criticizing the NSA and calling for the U.N. to establish legal regulations that would prevent abuses on the Internet, including international surveillance and violations of privacy. Merkel has also stepped up criticism of the NSA spying following reports that the agency tapped her mobile phone.
"Through this resolution, the General Assembly establishes, for the first time, that human rights should prevail irrespective of the medium and therefore need to be protected both offline and online," said Brazil's Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota in the announcement of the resolution.
The dialogue on surveillance has reached the point where nations and U.S. politicians including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., acknowledge that every country competes with others in digital intelligence gathering. Representatives from the European Parliament visited Washington, D.C., in October as part of an effort to rebuild trust with the U.S. following reports about extensive NSA surveillance and to negotiate possible data privacy agreements for the cloud computing era.