Individual human rights must be protected offline and online

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Young Liberian men work at a computer station at Camp Clara, the Pakistani battalion's headquarters in Monrovia, during a five-day computer course conducted by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL). UN Photo/Staton Winter

Digital mass surveillance by governments on individuals and corporate organisations without their consent is an affront to the enjoyment of human rights including the right to privacy, according to a new report published by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The report entitled, "The right to privacy in the digital age" says there is a disturbing" lack of transparency about governmental surveillance policies and practices, including de facto coercion of private sector companies to provide sweeping access to information and data relating to private individuals.

It says technological devices upon which global political, economic and social life are increasingly reliant are not only vulnerable to surveillance but in some cases may facilitate it.

The UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay says many states are taking advantage of the lack of adequate legislation and oversight of digital surveillance to advance the unlawful violation of the right to privacy.

She is proposing that any surveillance of digital communications be monitored and supervised by independent institutions.

"When conducted in compliance with the law, including international human rights law surveillance of electronic communication data can, of course be an effective and necessary measure for legitimate law enforcement or intelligence purposes. However among other restrictions, states must demonstrate the necessity of that surveillance and they many only take measures that are proportionate and in compliance with legislation that is clear, precise and accessible. The very existence of mass surveillance programme creates an interference with privacy. The onus is on the state to demonstrate that such interference is neither arbitrary nor unlawful."

Ms Pillay further says surveillance of people based only on their race, religion or national origin does not comply with international legal norms and may amount to discrimination.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration 2.05″

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December 2017
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