GSO Intern Report — On Internet Privacy and Surveillance Issues, by Pablo Das, Boston University

In just the past 15 years, the number of Internet users across the globe has increased ten fold. This sudden growth, from 300 millions users to 3 billion users, has yielded both positive and negative impacts. The negative impacts have presented themselves through threats of cybercrime, online privacy breaches and excessive online surveillance. While cybercrime is still a developing issue at the global level, online data protection and freedom from excessive surveillance have become prominent issues in the global community. Although both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) outline a protection from unlawful interference of an individual’s privacy, the dimensions of that privacy online are only now being defined. The consideration of Internet privacy kicked off in 2012 when Sweden and the U.S. co-sponsored a Human Rights Council resolution (20/8, 5 July 2012) stating that the same human rights apply on Internet communications as they do to nonInternet communications, which of course includes the right to privacy. The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet were also endorsed in the 26th session of the Human Rights Council (26/13, 26 June 2014).

Freedom from excessive surveillance, however, has perhaps been the most noticeable global debate. Intelligence agencies across the world like the American National Security Agency and the British Government Communications Headquarters were found to have sophisticated surveillance programs on their own citizens and foreign governments. These controversies have called for stronger legislation protecting online privacy. However, the issues with privacy do not stop there. The electronic commerce sector has simultaneously grown with the Internet. While e-commerce growth has been welcomed, there is an apparent lack of security regarding e-commerce transactions as well. Often times, ecommerce transactions have led to dangers like companies storing and exploiting user information and even engaging in online fraud. Both of these topics of freedom from excessive surveillance and online privacy in e-commerce have been contested in international debate in recent years.

Regarding protection from excessive surveillance, UNHRC has taken the lead regarding both research and international pressure. The UNHRC has passed two resolutions regarding Internet privacy and surveillance (25/117 of March 2014 and most recently 28/27 on 26 March 2015). Leading up to the second resolution, the UNHRC received a comprehensive report on surveillance issues from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and convened a panel discussion on privacy and surveillance issues at its 27th session in September 2014. Most notably, in its March 2015 resolution, the Council has established a new special rapporteur on privacy to investigate the best practices of online privacy and report any violations he or she may encounter regarding protection of online privacy. The UNHRC resolutions were all adopted by consensus.

In the realm of e-commerce, there is a clear lack of regulation and policies protecting consumer’s rights. This has raised concerns about e-commerce in developing countries. UNCTAD has released two reports, starting with a review of e-commerce laws in ASEAN countries and then moving more broadly to recommendations and guidelines for countries to ensure that data protection is maintained even outside the e-commerce industry. In March, UNCTAD convened an “E-Commerce Week” to review its research, share experiences and contribute to preparations f