U.N.: Governments Coerce Companies to Do Their Surveillance Bidding



The United Nations' (U.N.) human rights office released a report today blasting the growing "de facto coercion of private sector companies" to do governments' surveillance bidding. 

From the report

There is strong evidence of a growing reliance by governments on the private sector to conduct and facilitate digital surveillance. On every continent, governments have used both formal legal mechanisms and covert methods to gain access to content, as well as to metadata. This process is increasingly formalized: as telecommunications service provision shifts from the public sector to the private sector, there has been a "delegation of law enforcement and quasi-judicial responsibilities to Internet intermediaries under the guise of 'self-regulation' or 'cooperation.'" The enactment of statutory requirements for companies to make their networks "wiretap-ready" is a particular concern, not least because it creates an environment that facilitates sweeping surveillance measures.

As tech blog GigaOM notes, "no names were named" among either governments or companies. However, it's not too hard to guess that the U.S. is a primary focus, since the report is quick to acknowledge that "concerns have been amplified following revelations in 2013 and 2014 that … the National Security Agency in the United States of America  [has] developed technologies allowing access to much global internet traffic, calling records in the United States, individuals' electronic address books and huge volumes of other digital communications content."

The U.N. paper criticizes that a preferred NSA argument – because metadata collection it doesn't divulge communication content, no one's right to privacy is violated – "is not persuasive." And, "increasing reliance of governments on private sector actors to retain data 'just in case' it is needed for government purposes" is "neither necessary or proportionate."

The intergovernmental organizations warns that as "mass surveillance technologies are now entering the global market… the risk that digital surveillance will escape governmental controls" is growing.

Calling upon nations to conform to U.N. guidelines, the report repeatedly says that the snooping practice violates international law and treaties. On that matter, all I can say is big whoop. Surveillance is a serious issue and it does violate people's rights, but international agreements don't override domestic law or autonomy, and the line of thought that the best way to deal with a big, abusive government is to entrust it with enforcing even more laws is head-spinning.

A more productive suggestion to ensure that "technologies are used to deliver on their potential towards the improved enjoyment of … human rights" is that "a dialogue involving all interested stakeholders, including member states, civil society, scientific and technical communities, the business sector, academics and human rights experts" should take place.

And that makes sense. More important than law is a social shift that could come from such a discussion. Individual Americans, particularly business owners and employees – not just at large companies like AT&T that are accused of being complicit in mass surveillance, but at smaller companies that engage in security camera partnerships with local law enforcement, or car repo businesses that gather millions of lincense plate images and sell them to police – have to decide whether or not they want to be complicit in surveillance behavior that threatens everyone's privacy. It's an issue that won't be solved overnight or by the well-meaning finger wagging of the U.N., since the technological capabilities we are grappling with are quite new, and we're only learning the consequences of them as the technologies emerge. 

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  1. You know you’re in really deep shit when the UN’s position on something is morally superior to yours.

    1. I’m quivering in my boots thinking about their next course of action. Maybe some prolonged periods of furious foot stamping?

      1. They will send a bunch of Blue Helmets over to rape you!

        Oh, wait, you are not 12 years old.


    2. Has this ever happened before?

  2. HuffPo: Oh no, the Koch Brothers are helping young people become entrepreneurs!!! This must be stopped!…..87577.html

    1. And, comments:

      Jim Bernot ? Top Commenter ? Retired at Currently Retired
      This entire program meets the textbook definition of “brainwashing”. It’s not enough that the Kochs want to control the country and it’s government, now they want to control the minds of our young people. These men are as dangerous as Hitler, and are using some of the same tactics.

      It’s like a contest to see who can spew the most overheated nonsense.

      Ponderus MacDonald ? Top Commenter ? Hanover, New Hampshire
      The Kochs are attempting a coup of the United States — it’s that simple. They pose a greater threat to America than any foreign power.

      Mask slippage.

      Terry McLaughlin ? Top Commenter
      This is just so sick on so many levels…these kids will be brainwashed into a world of “us” and “them”. They will grow up thinking only the rich deserve a good life and everyone else had the same exact chance that they did. They are being indoctrinated, pure and simple.

      Aaaaannd massive projection.

      1. It’s like reading interwar German commentary about the pernicious effect of Jews on German culture, society and the government.

      2. It’s impressive that these subgeniuses can go Godwin over an entrepreneurial program. I mean, at this rate, sneezing will make people worse than Hitler.

        1. “at this rate, sneezing will make people worse than Hitler”

          So if Nikki sneezed, it would be worse than something worse than Hitler?!!

      3. Hey Brandon, I’m trying to start my afternoon drinking right now, but you’re getting me all hot and bothered.

      4. Sweet. I’m glad to see that the Koch brothers are doing that. (Not because I give a fig that it’s the Kochs, but just because someone is.) I also won’t mind if it makes a bunch of leftards squirt blood out of their eyes.

    2. The horrible, radical beliefs that are being driven into these young minds are essentially identical to what I was taught as an undergraduate economics student at a publicly funded state university.

      1. I’m entirely unclear on what actual evils the Kochs can rationally be accused of committing. I mean, sure, they’re inherently evil for daring to be rich, not left-wing, and funding science, education, and anti-leftwing politics, but all of the hyperbole–what’s even slightly based on even distorted facts?

  3. “Surveillance is a serious issue and it does violate people’s rights, but international agreements don’t override domestic law or autonomy, and the line of thought that the best way to deal with a big, abusive government is to entrust it with enforcing even more laws is head-spinning.”

    That’s something of an overstatement. A properly ratified treaty does carry the weight of federal law, for whatever it is worth.

  4. “Hailing frequencies are open, Captain.”

    1. Dork.

      1. Oh, please. You, too, recognized Lt. Uhura. And if you didn’t, that means, of course, that you are a racist.

        1. Well, you are sort of a dork. But so is sarcasmic, which is why he rushed to call you one.

          1. Epi is the king of projection identification.

        2. I recognized the Dork Trek, but the decade.

          1. but *not* the decade.

            1. Sure you didn’t. Your denials bring you ever closer to the Dark Side of the Jedi Mind-Meld.

              1. Pink Floyd sucks.

                1. They should get Lou Reed to front for them.

                  1. I don’t know how to tell you this…

                    *prepares to let OB down like a Browns fan*

                2. Nothing to do with your Pink Floyd comment, but someone should reboot the show as Metal Trek. Captain James T. Krokus. Mr. Spike. And so one.

                  1. So on. But, speaking of “One,” when they reboot the space hippies episode. . .well, I don’t have to tell you that Krokus and Spike kill them. Kill them all.

                    1. Okay, I’ve got the doctor’s name: Dr. “Boner” McFl?y.

                    2. I believe Metal Trek exists already.

                    3. It’s certainly Trek-like. Is it Finnish, though?

    2. +1 Ugly bag of mostly water

  5. Individual Americans, particularly business owners and employees ? not just at large companies like AT&T that are accused of being complicit in mass surveillance

    They moved heaven and Earth to get him reelected. They weren’t being forced to do anything they didn’t want to do.

    When the Nerds Go Marching In
    How a dream team of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google built the software that drove Barack Obama’s reelection

    Data You Can Believe In
    …But the (re)selling of the president, 2012, was an entirely different matter. The campaign recruited the best young minds in the booming fields of analytics and behavioral science and placed them in a room they called “the cave” for up to 16 hours a day over the course of roughly 16 months. After the election, when the technology wizards finally came out, they had not only helped produce a victory that defied a couple of historical predictors; they also developed a host of highly effective marketing techniques that were either entirely new or had never been tried on such a grand scale….

    1. Data Miners Liken Obama Voters To Caesars Gamblers
      …The extent to which the Obama campaign used the newest tech tools to look into people’s lives was largely shrouded, the Times reports, but included data mining efforts that triggered Facebook’s internal safeguard alarms. … ‘We asked to see [voter’s Facebook] photos but really we were looking for who were tagged in photos with you, which was a really great way to dredge up old college friends ? and ex-girlfriends.’ The Times also explains how the Obama campaign was able to out-optimize the Romney campaign on TV buys by obtaining set-top box TV show viewing information from cable companies for voters on the Obama campaign’s ‘persuadable voters’ list. “…

  6. Does this really surprise anyone? At all?

    1. The surprise is not what is happening, but that the UN appears to disapprove.

      1. Weren’t they spying on the UN too?

    2. Maybe those that look to the UN to consistently back statist policy? Google spell-check also thinks that statist isn’t a word. Fuckin slavers.

  7. Oh yeah, that’s all we need, the United Nations to the rescue. Gimme a break. New boss, worse than the old boss…. The people of the prince that shall come…

  8. The U.N. wants to have a monopoly on coercing companies to do their bidding.

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