UN creates digital privacy watchdog

The top human rights body in the United Nations has voted to create a special watchdog dedicated to the right to privacy in the digital age.

The new "Special Rapporteur" created by the Human Rights Council on Thursday will be tasked with investigating whether countries’ cyber spying programs unnecessarily violate people’s privacy and what people around the world can do to protect those rights.

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According to Reuters, the effort was spearheaded by Brazil and Germany, two countries that have been vocal critics of the U.S.’s broad efforts to sweep up digital information about people on the Internet that were revealed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Documents leaked by Snowden showed that the National Security Agency spied on the personal communications of both Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The appointment of a U.N. expert on privacy in the digital age means that we now have someone to watch those that are watching us,” Eileen Donahoe, the director of global affairs at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “When everything you say or do can be intercepted, monitored, or become the object of surveillance, it has a chilling effect on what people feel free to say, where they feel free to go and with whom they choose to meet.”

The new watchdog is focused on digital privacy and will also be responsible for issues in the offline world, such as the responsibilities of police officers when encountering suspects and businesses with their customers’ data. 

The U.S. has yet to name an individual to serve as the special rapporteur.