Global Trends by Martin Khor
Monday 30 September 2013
Strong attack on US internet spying
The United Nations General Assembly opened last week with an electrifying speech by the Brazilian President who attacked US internet spying, with US President Obama in the audience.
Internet spying by the United States government became a major issue at the United Nations General Assembly last week when political leaders heard a blistering attack by the Brazilian President who was visibly angry about how her country and her own office have been targets by cyber-snooping activities.
She called the US action a breach of international law, a grave violation of human rights and civil liberties, and a disrespect for national sovereignty.
It was condemnation in the strongest terms at the highest political forum in the world, with UN and commercial TV stations beaming the speech live.
The surveillance issue, which has caused ripples with continuous revelations in the media emerging from whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s files, has now reached the United Nations.
And in the most spectacular fashion. It was an extraordinary scene when President Dilma Rousseff gave the opening speech among the government leaders gathered for the annual UN General Assembly summit.
Traditionally, Brazil’s President speaks first, followed by the United States President.
Thus, Barrack Obama could not avoid hearing her speech.
Many had expected President Rousseff to touch on the internet spying issue, since she had strongly criticised the US when the media broke the news on specific instances of US internet surveillance on the Brazilian President’s office, other departments including the Brazilian Mission to the UN, and the national oil company Petrobas. She recently cancelled a state visit to Washington.
But her speech and performance was far beyond what was anticipated. With the atmosphere electrifying in the packed hall of leaders, the Brazilian President cut out the usual diplomatic niceties while addressing one of the most sensitive issues to have emerged globally in recent years.
it “a matter of great importance and gravity….the global network
of electronic espionage that has caused indignation and repudiation
in public opinion around the world.”
She started by laying the foundation of her argument: “A sovereign nation can never establish itself to the detriment of another sovereign nation.
to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating
fundamental human rights of citizens of another country. The arguments
that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting
nations against terrorism cannot be sustained.”
“In the absence
of the right to privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression
She proposed multilateral mechanisms for the worldwide network, based on the principles of freedom of expression, privacy and human rights; open, multilateral and democratic governance; universality; cultural diversity; and neutrality of the network,
by technical and ethical criteria, with no restrictions allowed on
political, commercial, religious grounds.
After her speech, delegates who hoped that President Obama would respond were disappointed. He did not refer to the Brazilian President’s address made only a few minutes before. He made only a passing reference to the issue, saying “we are reviewing the way we gather intelligence.”
The Brazilian President’s speech came at the right time and venue, since people worldwide have been increasingly troubled or outraged by the extent of cyber-spying revealed by the media.
The issue is even more serious for developing countries. The media reports indicate that there are double standards, with the US spying programme requiring a special court procedure for opening data on individual US citizens, while there is no such procedure for residents outside the US, and thus the surveillance is comprehensive for the world outside the US, with the citizens, companies and government offices all being targets.
Moreover, the media reports show that the US actions do not stop at surveillance. There are also schemes to engage in cyber actions or attacks.
The Guardian in June reported on a leaked directive from President Obama to his security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks.
The directive reveals plans for operations “with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging".
Times on 31 August revealed that US intelligence agencies carried
out 231 offensive cyber operations, as part of a campaign using the
internet as “a theatre of spying, sabotage and war”, citing leaked
documents on intelligence agencies’ budgets.