Reprinted from The Intercept
The latest findings by the UN investigator add to the growing number of international formal rulings that the mass surveillance programs of the U.S. and its partners are illegal.
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The United Nations' top official for counter-terrorism and human rights (known as the "Special Rapporteur") issued a formal report to the U.N. General Assembly today that condemns mass electronic surveillance as a clear violation of core privacy rights guaranteed by multiple treaties and conventions. "The hard truth is that the use of mass surveillance technology effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the Internet altogether," the report concluded.
Central to the Rapporteur's findings is the distinction between "targeted surveillance" -- which "depend[s] upon the existence of prior suspicion of the targeted individual or organization" -- and "mass surveillance," whereby "states with high levels of Internet penetration can  gain access to the telephone and e-mail content of an effectively unlimited number of users and maintain an overview of Internet activity associated with particular websites." In a system of "mass surveillance," the report explained, "all of this is possible without any prior suspicion related to a specific individual or organization. The communications of literally every Internet user are potentially open for inspection by intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the States concerned."
Mass surveillance thus "amounts to a systematic interference with the right to respect for the privacy of communications," it declared. As a result, "it is incompatible with existing concepts of privacy for States to collect all communications or metadata all the time indiscriminately."