Brazil Joins Germany in Seeking UN Probe of U.S. Spying

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses a cell phone during a meeting of the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, in Berlin. Photographer: Michele Tantussi/Bloomberg

Brazil and Germany are pushing for a United Nations inquiry scrutinizing the U.S. National Security Agency for possible violations of privacy rights in surveillance activities at home and abroad.

Diplomats from the two countries today began circulating a draft resolution calling on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate “the protection of the right to privacy in the context of domestic and extraterritorial, including massive, surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data,” according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News.

They began work on the text last week amid expressions of outrage over revelations the NSA may have tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone and eavesdropped on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s private communications.

Reports about the surveillance were based on material provided by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who today offered to testify before the German parliament. Merkel sent a team of intelligence officials to the White House this week to “rebuild trust” with the U.S., according to the chancellery.

The draft text will be orally presented next week before the United Nations General Assembly’s committee on social and humanitarian affairs, said a UN diplomat involved in the process, who asked not to be identified as a matter of policy.

‘Best Practices’

German and Brazilian delegations have held meetings with other European and Latin American countries, so far securing initial interest from France, Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela as possible cosponsors of the resolution, according to a second UN diplomat who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Over the next two years, the UN’s human rights chief should present a report each year “identifying and clarifying principles, standards and best practices on how to address security concerns” without violating international human rights law, specifically monitoring “digital communications and the use of other intelligence technologies,” according to the text.

Though resolutions adopted by the General Assembly aren’t binding, the Brazilian-German proposal would provide a forum for dozens of countries to express discontent with the U.S. surveillance program.

The U.S. has received the draft and will evaluate the text on its merits, said a U.S. official by e-mail, asking not to be identified citing policy.

‘Transparency, Accountability’

While concerns about public security may justify the gathering and protection of certain sensitive information, state surveillance activities must be carried out in full compliance with international human rights law, the draft resolution states.

It also calls on nations to “review their procedures, practices and legislation” regarding surveillance and to “establish independent national oversight mechanisms” to ensure “transparency and accountability.”

In testimony this week before the U.S. House intelligence committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said allies have spied on U.S. leaders just as the U.S. has gathered information on them.

“It’s invaluable for us to know where countries are coming from, what their policies are, how that would impact us across a whole range of issues,” Clapper said at the Oct. 29 hearing.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that some American surveillance “reached too far” and that he and Obama had learned of some efforts that were on “automatic pilot.”

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