The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday decided to appoint an investigator to look into violations of digital privacy rights, following revelations of large-scale cyber-snooping by Washington and others.
The council, which counts the United States among its 47 members, adopted by consensus the resolution establishing the three-year watchdog position.
“The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy,” the text said.
The resolution presented by Brazil and Germany comes in the wake of revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden of widespread surveillance by the US and British governments.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff were among those spied upon, according to the documents he leaked.
Thursday’s resolution comes on the heels of a UN General Assembly resolution late last year, which called on governments to offer redress to citizens targeted by mass surveillance and urged the rights body to address the issue.
Through the resolution, the rights council said it was “deeply concerned at the negative impact that surveillance, … interception of communications, including extraterritorial surveillance (and) the collection of personal data, in particular when carried out on a mass scale, may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights.”
It called on the new expert, who will be appointed by council president Joachim Ruecher, to “report on alleged violations, wherever they may occur, of the right to privacy.” Rights groups hailed the resolution.
“Security agencies show a misguided and ever-growing appetite for data collection,” said Peter Splinter, Amnesty’s representative to the rights council, adding: “Someone has to watch the watchers.”
Eileen Donahoe, head of global affairs at Human Rights Watch, agreed.
“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,” she said in a statement.
“Our hope is that the Human Rights Council resolution marks the beginning of a serious global reckoning with mass surveillance and its effects,” she added.