Europe and Brazil taking spying claims to the UN

Friday, 8 Nov 2013 | 9:13 AM ET
Odd Andersen | AFP | Getty Images

Top politicians in Europe and Brazil are piling the pressure on the U.S. over its spying program by taking their grievances to the United Nations (UN).

Germany and Brazil have tabled a UN General Assembly resolution which seeks special monitoring for "ensuring transparency and accountability" of state surveillance.

While the document did not specifically mention the U.S., Germany's anger at the National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance tactics were made clear.

"Reports about mass surveillance of private communication and the collection of personal data have alarmed people all over the world," Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig told a General Assembly rights committee.

"They ask a legitimate question: is their right to privacy still protected effectively in our digital world?"

(Read more: Germany summons US over Merkel phone-tapping claims)

The move comes after the NSA was accused of tapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone and the communications of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The latest spying row was sparked by recent revelations by former security contractor Edward Snowden in the Guardian and elsewhere.

But the director of the NSA General Keith Alexander, told a congressional hearing last week that data from European phone calls were not collected by his agency.

Taking the issue to the UN is "symbolic" but shows commitment to tighter privacy rules, Wenzel Michalski, Germany director of Human Rights Watch, told CNBC.

"Germany is showing that it is more than just annoyed. They are committed to the right of privacy. Together with the Brazilians, who are this new and strong democracy, it is actually quite a powerful step."

The resolution is expected to be voted on this month and would be non-binding, but would urge countries to stop cyber snooping. It calls on UN human rights chief Navi Pillay to produce a report on data surveillance and for states to extend protections to communications surveillance under an international covenant.

(Read more: US spying a 'slap in the face': EU lawmaker)

Meanwhile in Brussels, members of European Parliament (MEPs) called for the suspension of EU-US data transfer deals and are pushing for the creation of a "European privacy cloud", which is describes as "a secure data storage location to protect internet users' privacy".

The EU push towards tighter data protection rules is an economic and political "revolution" looking to "rebalance" the power between Brussels and Washington, Paolo Balboni, scientific director at the European Privacy Association, told CNBC. The call for the creation of a European privacy cloud will be a way for European technology firms to gain an advantage over U.S. companies, he added.

"I think that the EU is leveraging this reform around privacy reform to make rules in Europe more stringent than in other continents, where the biggest IT companies have their establishments and in this way, to enable the European IT market to have a competitive advantage against outsiders."

MEPs are expected to hold three more hearings with a report being produced in the first week of December to put to a full parliamentary vote in February 2014.

—By CNBC's Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal


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