Twenty-one countries, including US allies France and Mexico, have now joined talks to hammer out a UN resolution that would condemn “indiscriminate” and “extra-territorial” surveillance, and ensure “independent oversight” of electronic monitoring.
The news was reported by Foreign Policy magazine, which has also obtained a copy of the draft text.
The resolution was proposed earlier this week by Germany and Brazil, whose leaders have been some of the most vocal critics of the comprehensive spying methods of the US National Security Agency.
It appears to have gained additional traction after the Guardian newspaper published an internal NSA memo sourced from whistleblower Edward Snowden on Friday, which revealed that at least 35 heads of state had their phones tapped by American intelligence officials.
One of those is likely German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Earlier this week the White House failed to deny that her personal cell phone had been tapped in the past, though it claims that it no longer listens in on Merkel’s private conversations.
Other countries involved in the talks reportedly include Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guyana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Paraguay, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Uruguay and Venezuela.
While the document does not single out the US as the chief electronic spy, its text seems to be a direct response to alleged NSA practices.
The draft says that UN member states are “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of extra-territorial surveillance or interception of communications in foreign jurisdictions.”
Snowden’s leaks over the past months have revealed that NSA intercepts data directly from data cables stationed around the world. Internal documents also showed that American intelligence staff did not need a warrant or any other legal basis to freely spy on a non-US citizen.
The proposed document also claims that “illegal surveillance of private communications and the indiscriminate interception of personal data of citizens constitutes a highly intrusive act that violates the rights to freedom of expression and privacy and threatens the foundations of a democratic society.”
As opposed to the targeted spying of the past, where agencies would tap a specific phone or intercept letters addressed to a person, new technologies mean that almost all data that passes through the internet is saved onto the NSA servers. This includes private emails, web searches, and personal data of billions of people. NSA agents then fish out the needed information with precise searches.
The resolution, which is expected to be presented in front of the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee before the end of the year, turns NSA’s activities into an issue of fundamental rights as opposed to international politics, requiring the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present the world community with a report on the issue. The draft also asks to institute “independent oversight mechanisms” that would curb the untrammelled surveillance, though it does not specify how such a secretive activity could be effectively supervised.