Rights Groups Call For New UN Privacy Watchdog

Over 60 rights and public interest groups have joined forces to lobby governments around the world into persuading the United Nations to establish a dedicated privacy watchdog.

In a letter dated Monday, the 60+ undersigned NGOs urged governments to support the creation of a new ‘special rapporteur’ on the right to privacy at the UN Human Rights Council's (HRC) 28th ordinary session later this month.

A special rapporteur is an unpaid, independent expert appointed by the HRC to “examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme,” according to the UN.

There has been a special rapporteur for the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression since 1993, but privacy is one of the few rights thus far without a “dedicated mandate holder” at the UN.

Such a person could undertake “sustained and systematic analysis, research and monitoring on the right to privacy,” including much-needed clarification of “principles, standards and best practice,” the letter argued.

It continued:

“The UN General Assembly resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age – adopted by consensus on 18 December 2014 encourages the HRC to consider the possibility of establishing a special procedure on the right to privacy…

The UN General Assembly, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and existing special procedure mandate holders have all recognized the pressing need to provide continuous, systematic and authoritative guidance on the scope and content of the right to privacy as enshrined in article 12 of UDHR and article 17 of ICCPR. Significantly, all of them have identified the need to assess and monitor the ongoing implementation of this right.”

Among the participating groups are the Electronic Freedom Foundation, Amnesty International and Liberty.

Privacy in the digital age has become a hotly debated issue over the past few years, even before revelations from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden of mass surveillance by NSA, GCHQ and other spy agencies.

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