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UPDATE: The new resolution “Right to Privacy in the Digital Age” (A/RES/69/166) was adopted by the UN General Assembly plenary on 18 December, 2014.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) welcomes the new resolution “Right to Privacy in the Digital Age”, adopted yesterday by consensus in the Third Committee on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). With 66 co-sponsors, the resolution is yet another indication of the global consensus that human rights apply online.

Spearheaded by Brazil and Germany, this resolution builds on last year’s groundbreaking resolution that condemned unlawful and arbitrary surveillance as a violation of the right to privacy and deemed it in contradiction with the tenets of democracy. Like last year, the resolution calls on all states to take measures to put an end to rights violations, review practices and policies of communications surveillance, and establish oversight mechanisms. The new resolution takes further steps, calling for access to effective remedy for individuals whose right to privacy has been violated and encouraging the Human Rights Council (HRC) to consider establishing a special procedure on the right to privacy.

We welcome the recognition in this year’s resolution that effectively addressing the challenges of the right to privacy in the context of modern communications technology will require an ongoing, concerted multi-stakeholder engagement, and that the resolution specifically notes NETmundial in this context. Additionally we are pleased to see the member states deeply concerned with the threats, harassment and insecurity that human rights defenders frequently face in many countries as a result of their work.

APC also strongly supports the establishment of a new special rapporteur. We view this as a critical step towards a common understanding of the right to privacy and its relationship to other rights such as the right to health, freedom from discrimination, women’s rights and sexual rights.

Nonetheless, we are disappointed to see the final resolution softened from its initial draft due to pressure from the Five Eyes countries, none of whom even co-sponsored the resolution in the end. We believe it should have also drawn from more of the persuasive findings in the UN High Commissioner’s report on the right to privacy in the digital age. In particular, we regret that the principles of necessity and proportionality were not used as the standard for surveillance programmes; that metadata is not recognised as being just as sensitive as the content of communications; and that language which established that states must respect human rights obligations where they exert control, regardless of the location of the communications infrastructure or nationality of the individual, was ultimately removed.

APC looks forward to the adoption of the resolution by the plenary of the UNGA next month and view this as an encouraging sign that internet rights are increasingly on the global agenda. We will continue to engage at the HRC in 2015 as it continues its debate of this important topic and we encourage all states to uphold the commitments that they make with this resolution.

About the Association for Progressive Communications

APC is an international network and non-profit organisation founded in 1990 that wants everyone to have access to a free and open internet to improve lives and create a more just world.

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