UN resolution denounces US spy tactics

The United Nations on Tuesday adopted a resolution that strengthens its criticism of mass surveillance programs, which some see as a direct condemnation of U.S. spying efforts.

Brazil and Germany led the push for the resolution, which the United States did not support. The nonbinding measure encourages all countries to protect a digital right to privacy, listing government tactics that might infringe on this right.

The U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee passed the measure by consensus. The Human Rights Council is expected to take up the issue next spring.


The resolution is an update to a proposal adopted last year, which the U.S. backed, that generally declared the human right to privacy extends to the digital sphere.

But the resolution passed Tuesday had notable changes.

It addressed specific surveillance tactics, which the previous resolution did not. Particularly, it highlighted metadata collection and intercepting communications from private companies as infringements of the right to privacy.

These are strategies U.S. intelligence agencies use.

One program, for instance, collects the time, date and length — metadata — of Americans’ phone calls. Other programs compel tech companies to share customer data or hack directly into companies' to intercept data.

Former government contractor Edward Snowden exposed these methods last year through leaked secret National Security Agency documents.

“U.S. surveillance practices fall far short of these exacting standards” in the U.N. resolution, said Steven Watt, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Human Rights Program, in a blog post.

The Senate last week declined to move on a bill to end the NSA’s bulk collection of phone record metadata.

Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand also did not sponsor the resolution. Those four countries and the U.S. are part of an intelligence alliance known as the Five Eyes.