Mass internet surveillance threatens international law, UN report claims

The critical study by Ben Emmerson QC, the UN’s special rapporteur on counter-terrorism, is a response to revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of monitoring carried out by GCHQ in the UK and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the US.
Emmerson’s study poses a direct challenge to the claims of both governments that their bulk surveillance programs, which the barrister finds endanger the privacy of “literally every internet user,” are proportionate to the terrorist threat and robustly constrained by law. To combat the danger, Emmerson endorses the ability of Internet users to mount legal challenges to bulk surveillance.
“Bulk access technology is indiscriminately corrosive of online privacy and impinges on the very essence of the right guaranteed by [the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights],” Emmerson, a prominent human rights lawyer, concludes. The programmes, he said, “pose a direct and ongoing challenge to an established norm of international law.”
Article 17 of the covenant, Emmerson points out, states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home and correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation”.
The 22-page report warns that the use of mass surveillance technology, through interception programs developed by the NSA and GCHQ such as Prism and Tempora, “effectively does away with the right to privacy of communications on the internet altogether”.