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On 26 November 2013, the the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee committee of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on privacy in the digital age. This is a major breakthrough for human rights advocates around the world, since it is the first resolution of this kind to focus on right to privacy.

Given the recent Snowden revelations and the current trend among several states to increase mass surveillance of electronic communications, this resolution will allow human rights advocates to campaign for better policies and legislations at national, regional and international levels. For example, it emphasises that “that unlawful or arbitrary surveillance and/or interception of communications, as well as unlawful or arbitrary collection of personal data, as highly intrusive acts, violate the rights to privacy and freedom of expression and may contradict the tenets of a democratic society.”

Another positive aspect is that the resolution acknowledges the 2013 report by Frank La Rue, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the implications of states’ surveillance on the human rights to privacy and to freedom of expression and association.

Additionally, the resolution opens up a space for further discussion of human rights online by asking the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to present a report on privacy and surveillance of digital communications at the Human Rights Council, as well as to the General Assembly in 2014, where a special session to examine the report and recommendations would be held.

This resolution was based on a draft proposed by Brazil and Germany earlier in November. After negotiations with other states and in particular alleged lobbying of the US delegation, the resolution presented weaker language where, among other things, the link between privacy and freedom of expression was de-emphasised. Despite these drawbacks, it has already been used by advocacy groups at the national level. Shortly after it was passed, for example, activists in Ecuador used it to lobby for the elimination of content in the new criminal code that infringes upon the right to privacy and legalises mass communications surveillance at the national level.

APC salutes this resolution as a policy tool for rights groups to leverage their advocacy work. Joy Liddicoat, from APC, said “We welcome the opportunity to bring internet rights issues before the Council and the General Assembly and will be advocating strongly for all rights and freedoms to be fully respected and protected online and offline.” APC will continue engaging in joint civil society efforts to ensure that human rights on the internet are recognised, ensured and protected.