UN Special Rapporteur monitors closely disclosures on the United States NSA’s Prism Program

Geneva (11 June 2013) - The Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism is closely monitoring disclosures concerning the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Prism Program, and will be engaging with both the US and the UK governments on the privacy and data protection issues which these disclosures have raised. Those discussions will, in the first instance, be confidential. He notes however that the "mining" of meta-data is regarded by national security experts in both States, and in a number of other States, as an important measure for countering the threat of terrorism and has been credited with the disruption of a number of active terrorist plots. He also notes that the US and UK have an established practice of close co-operation on intelligence matters.

The Special Rapporteur observes that current assessments of the threat posed by terrorism in the US and the UK have changed significantly in profile over the past three years. It is therefore right that there should now be a debate on the extent to which the public in both States is prepared to tolerate official access to meta data of this kind, and on this scale, as a necessary governmental interference for the protection of national security. As that debate progresses it will be important to retain a sense of proportionality and for all concerned to bear in mind that the program does not authorise access to the content of communications, but rather enables the relevant authorities to track patterns of communication. Whilst privacy is an important human right deserving of protection, the extent of any interference is highly relevant in determining whether it is justified for the protection of the public. The technological advances in wholesale data-mining capabilities should not of course be allowed to become self-justifying.  The debate which has been generated by these disclosures is therefore timely. But there have been, and continue to be, far more egregious human rights violations in the counter-terrorism sphere, assuming that wholesale data-mining is indeed a human rights violation in the first place.