In Brief

UN to set up global ‘snooper’s league table’

Human rights expert to measure countries’ privacy safeguards

The United Nations has taken the first step towards creating a league table of global governments that conduct the most surveillance on their own citizens.

UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, has submitted a draft list of questions that measure countries’ privacy safeguards to the UN Human Rights Council for comment.

The 28-question survey, which covers everything from chatroom monitoring to systematic surveillance, begins with a potential five points if a country’s constitution had a provision to protect privacy.

“Other questions range from parliamentary and judicial oversight of surveillance and intelligence activities, profiling of civilians, and the use of 'bulk powers' — such as downloading an entire set of phone records rather than getting a judge’s permission to listen into one call,” says Reuters.

The final question asks: “Does your country have a police and/or intelligence service which systematically profiles and maintains surveillance on large segments of the population in a manner comparable to that of the Stasi in the 1955-1990 GDR (East Germany)?”

The rankings system is part of Cannataci’s wider brief investigating digital privacy, which was created by the Human Rights Council in 2015 in response to the Edward Snowden revelations about US surveillance.

Reuters reports that “the council’s 47 member states are not be obliged to agree with his findings, but special rapporteurs’ reports are generally influential in a forum where governments are keen to appear to have an unblemished human rights record”.

Earlier this month Cannataci slammed plans by the UK government to make it an offence to view terrorist material online just once.

Under the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill, which was granted Royal Assent in mid-February, a maximum penalty for viewing some types of terrorist information – even once – is 15 years imprisonment.

On a visit to the UK, Cannataci said the new law risked “pushing a bit too much towards thought crime”.

The UN official said “the difference between forming the intention to do something and then actually carrying out the act is still fundamental to criminal law… here you're saying: ‘You've read it three times so you must be doing something wrong.”

The Register says government has argued the law still provides for the existing “reasonable excuse defence”, “which includes circumstances where a person ‘did not know, and had no reason to believe’ the material accessed contained terrorist propaganda”.

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