back to article Snowden, NSA spying, hard drive malware ... what we need is a UN privacy watchdog!

The Electronic Frontier Foundation thinks the United Nations needs to get its arse in gear and safeguard people's privacy from government snoops. The activist group (EFF) said an independent expert should be appointed by the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC) to tackle blanket surveillance and the gathering of people's private …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can I be the first to do a slow hand clap for this waste of time?...

    1. Gray
      Windows

      Savor the measured cadence of one hand clapping.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      hmm

      If only the world was full of more ACs who did nothing but post in forums about nothing. (Yes the irony is not lost on me).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: hmm

        It's not anonymous to the spooks or anyone else on the network. El Reg does not even do basic https encryption for the username and password we supply in forum responses.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: hmm

            At less than £50 for a web cert, perhaps we could have a whip round for El Reg to fund this. If they can raise thousands from us for a trip to the US to then NOT launch a rocket, then a couple of quid to protect our security would be money well spent.

            Maybe we open a kickstarter - "securing the web site of IT professionals (and slackers)"

            1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

              Re: Re: hmm

              What, exactly, would theft of your Reg forums login creds achieve? Apart from giving me a monumental headache as every skiddie on t'interweb starts spamming the place.

              If you recycle your Reg login creds elsewhere, well, that's a silly thing to do.

              1. auburnman

                Re: hmm

                Well I'll concede el Reg don't have my bank details, over several years of being a commentard I may have revealed enough little bits about me to be useful to someone trying a social engineering attack to reset a password somewhere. Looking at my profile details you have my real name, my job role, my email address, you DON'T have my company name but the box is there so you may know who others work for. If someone could access my Reg login then off the top of my head they'd probably know the city I live in, possibly what kind of phone/'puter I use and what I say about my workplace when I'm posting as AC.

                If you don't see a good reason to protect the login creds, that doesn't mean there isn't one.

              2. Graham Marsden
                Boffin

                @gazthejourno - Re: hmm

                It is not what that theft would achieve, it's that El Reg should be setting a good example!

                1. Bernard M. Orwell
                  Coat

                  Re: @gazthejourno - hmm

                  Well, to be fair, they are journalists and not IT professionals....

              3. This post has been deleted by its author

              4. Dan 55 Silver badge

                Re: hmm

                Well you reported yourselves to the ICO over the Great Email Address Blunder of 2011 so presumably login cred theft would be more of a headache for you.

                Maybe many commentards follow best practice (disposable address and unique password) but that doesn't mean you don't have to.

            2. Trigonoceps occipitalis

              Re: hmm

              I think Lenovo have a few going cheap.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: hmm

            why they do nothing? Presumably because they know and we know and they know that we know that resistance is futile. And it's in the same league as very, very angry letters.

            oh, and it costs money too, I suppose....

    3. yossarianuk

      And you are doing ?

      What - much better to do nothing and except the world is totally shit ?

    4. NoneSuch Silver badge

      If nation states are not following their own laws, what makes you think they'll follow the UN?

      The only solution is the electorate to make their feelings known to the government in one voice, "If you support mass spying on individuals you will not be reelected."

      Politicians only respond to threats to their power.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "The only solution is the electorate to make their feelings known to the government in one voice, "If you support mass spying on individuals you will not be reelected."

        The politicians will simply respond by removing ANY AND ALL candidates who would be against mass spying so that your only choices are him and someone else who's all for spying. So you're left with the choices of a spymonger, a worse spymonger, or (maybe) going unrepresented, which amounts to the same thing.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Eh?

      More to the point, it's hard to come up with an organization more corrupt and politicized than the UN. Yea, they will save people from government snooping. Sure they will.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Good grief! Everyone knows the UN makes FIFA look honest.

  2. Mephistro

    Yeah, it's probably useless, but...

    ...given the way the US Govt. and the US courts have being closing any legal tools available for the EFF to fight the NSA and pals, it probably makes sense. It also helps keeping the issue in the mind of Joe Public, which is a good thing.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    An angry letters and resolutions...

    So there's several problems with that ....

    1) The US is NOT the only one slurping, snooping and pooping. Just the one that's been outed in the public press.

    2) The EFF expects that an angry letter or a resolution will do something or cause something to change? I don't recall any pronouncement from the UN stopping any wars, border fighting, etc. or any country saying "oh, your right, we need to repect our citizens".

    3) If they get too testy with the US, the US will just boot them out from the UN Building and turn it into a Holiday Inn. There's been a lot of calls in Congress in the past for booting them as well as the several times the States withheld payments.

    Can I suggest they just use email instead of a letter? It might save the lives of a few trees* during this exercise in futility.

    * Yes, I know paper comes from trees grown for this purpose on tree farms and not natural forests.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An angry letters and resolutions...

      I'm just going to agree with everything as you stated as it seems obvious. The reason I replied is that maybe this spying really can't go away...bear with me. Say that the electronic angle of this whole mess somehow by miracle is really stopped, what happens to spying in other forms? Bear with me... Are the spies to go back physically breaking in to buildings and stealing information? If you were doing the spying, would you want that? Bear with me...

      O.K. I know that spying on citizens has to stop! But, maybe we as citizens, should put more focus on spying on our own government. I feel they are going to do it no matter what, so maybe we should start...? In other words, maybe the issue isn't that our government is spying on us, but rather we are not spying on them.

      I'm half tempted to say we should completely ignore what they are doing for now, and setup neighborhood watches in politicians home towns...ALL politicians. However, maybe that is a little too tin foil hat'ish for some, but I find it as 1 possible non-violent solution (non-violent solutions are becoming scarily scarce).

      P.S. When I suggest we spy on our government, I REALLY mean spy! All the way down to snapchat. Hell, if we could use facial recognition software, we could setup our mobiles to take a picture of them everytime they passed by, then auto upload with geo cordinates. Given enough people running the software, we could track them more than they realize.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: An angry letters and resolutions...

        How about a constant public video feed showing their current GPS coordinates, live footage and all of their unencrypted, sniffed data traffic?

        Unfortunately, too damn many of them believe that surveillance is a good thing. It would probably crash the internet, Jen Style.

        Then again, enough lawsuits against invasion of privacy might set some decent legal precedent.

    2. David Pollard

      Re: An angry letters and resolutions...

      @Mark 88: Although the article suggests otherwise, the EFF and other groups are actually addessing the problem of unwarranted surveillance by "world governments", not just the US.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: An angry letters and resolutions...

        Which is just a load of hot air because all the governments involved carry sovereign power. They are each their own highest authority so answer to no one except another sovereign nature, and only if they butt heads. The UN does not have sovereign authority, and if it did it would by definition usurp sovereign power from everyone else.

        IOW, trying to tell a sovereign power what to do is like dictating terms to the landlord.

  4. Palpy

    USA: "What, me worry?"

    The USA has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and has not signed on to all the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Those are the two treaties which enumerate the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The USA hasn't even accepted the protocols of the International Criminal Court.

    The USA is not going to worry about a letter from the UN about human rights and privacy... unless they decide to kidnap and waterboard key members of the EFF.

    1. Dan Paul

      Re: USA: "What, me worry?"

      And why should they Palpy?

      As said before the UN has no effective power, is more corrupt than any agency on Earth, and any acceptance of these so called "Treaties, Covenants & Declarations" by the US gives those treaties weight and recognition they don't deserve.

      EVERYTHING that the UN does has an ulterior motive, the main one is to try to make the US kiss it's collective ass.

      Send the UN to Belgium and make it their problem. NYC spends way too much coddling the perverts and scofflaws of the UN.

  5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Holmes

    The problem is not just the U.S./NSA

    I bet that not one of the permanent security council members would be willing to adopt the EFF's desired code of conduct as their public policy on this issue, especially if the EFF were to include actual transparent and measurable compliance metrics in the code of conduct.

    (Love the quite fitting use of "Hans Brix"'s picture with the headline though!)

  6. circuitguy

    UN watchdogs.... you can not serious .....

  7. Herby

    Has the UN got ANYTHING right?

    I suspect that this will be a bunch of graft that will be extorted from "member states". They will select ones to head the organization in alphabetical order and call it good. One day a country like Iran will be in charge of freedoms and call for mass censorship as the new normal.

    Sorry, no thanks.

  8. Bump in the night
    Facepalm

    EFF starting to look even more ineffectual

    It's either that or start to wonder if the Clipper chip might not have been so bad after all. At least you could have had some sort of oversight.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EFF starting to look even more ineffectual

      Makes you wonder if someone decided that since the rabble didn't like the Clipper chip then they'd just make the situation much worse so that these other technologies then look like a very reasonable alternative. Instead, you know, of not spying illegally.

  9. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    WTF?

    WTF?

    ".....an independent expert should be appointed by the UN's Human Rights Council (HRC)....." Seriously? I had to go check it wasn't April 1st! The big, big problem with the tragically laughable UN HRC is the the majority of the Council are anything but independent and have zero interest in human rights. Why on Earth would the EFF even contemplate such a daft idea? Maybe it's because it's a full moon.

    1. John Sanders
      Holmes

      Re: WTF?

      Does the EFF thinks the UN is like this:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOLhQ6puoS4

      Some of the current members of the human rights commission:

      Saudi Arabia

      Cuba

      Venezuela

      Pakistan

      Russian Federation

      China

      All great defenders of human rights.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    it's embarrassing

    generally, I think highly of the EFF, but in this particular case, given the chances of follow-up (nil) and the obviousness of such chances, it looks like a PR stunt to make the world remember there's something called EFF and they champion for privacy, etc, etc, click here for donations (metaphorically speaking).

    ...

    unless the EFF are more evil than I take them to be, and they're positioning themselves as a perfect candidate for a job of a UN Privacy Supervision-ary Bureau, with 25,000 employees spread over 2500 offices across the world.

    I think I should write a very, very angry letter to them...

  11. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Hmmm

    While I don't think this idea will get very far, it does at least have a chance of getting people thinking about the subject - something that there is far too little of.

    Also, the more times the subject gets mentioned, the more chance that Joe Public will realise there is a problem.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Hmmm

      "Also, the more times the subject gets mentioned, the more chance that Joe Public will realise there is a problem."

      But there's a chance of a backfire. Mention it enough times and Joe Public, just interested in the nightly news and the football game (whichever form it may take), will tune it out and ignore it the next time it's heard. Cry Wolf Syndrome I think it's called?

  12. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Trollface

    Gis a job?

    I can do that.

  13. Otto is a bear.

    Red Necks

    Forgive me, but isn't EFF basically a US organisation, and here they are railing against state surveillance by the US government, a subject close to every red necks, survivalist and NRA member, and here they are suggesting that the UN, the only organisation that said groups hate more than their own government.

    One has to admire their bravery in the face of an absurdly heavily armed group of $%£%&!£^s, not know for their tolerance of liberals and foreigners. I suspect that idea will loose them some funding.

    Mine's the armour plated SUV.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UN privacy

    Who will the UN put in charge of the department of privacy?

    China, USA, UK, Russia and etc have vested interests in deciding just what is private. We can't trust a company or religion to look after our best interests in this either.

    Maybe the ex-chief of the NSA? He has experience of privacy abused and will be in a prime position to decide just what information will remain private (sorry Sir Humpfey).

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EFF has turned a corner

    Clearly they're now playing the "heated rhetoric" game at this point, trying to make us all feel better by venting on our behalf (and maybe drumming up financial support from those who see that as a positive thing).

    Thing is that, as others have pointed out, EFF's proposal is DOA and even if it were implemented won't solve the problem.

    What's really needed is a private non-profit with the technical expertise to do serious computer security research and open source distribution, that would include counter-surveillance technologies. The more diverse the funding and staff, the better. The time for advocacy is long past. Now is the time for action. I can't see how a U.N. agency could make a meaningful contribution in that respect, especially given the divided loyalties within the governments of its member states (where "us" is the politicians, bureaucrats and their friends and "us" is almost always the general public).

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: EFF has turned a corner

      "What's really needed is a private non-profit with the technical expertise to do serious computer security research and open source distribution, that would include counter-surveillance technologies."

      To pull something like this off, the non-profit would likely have to be a transnational on the level of, say, the Red Cross, to be able to stand up to pressure from state agents. Thing is, the states are the incumbents and would be likely to either nip something like this in the bud or infiltrate and subvert it.

  16. crayon

    "1) The US is NOT the only one slurping, snooping and pooping. Just the one that's been outed in the public press."

    Outside of the "5 eyes" the amount of "slurping, snooping and pooping" by the rest of the world is minuscule in comparison.

    "2) The EFF expects that an angry letter or a resolution will do something or cause something to change? I don't recall any pronouncement from the UN stopping any wars, border fighting, etc. or any country saying "oh, your right, we need to repect our citizens"."

    It is the actions of the member countries that dictates the UN's response to any event. Decision making in the UN Security Council (the only body in the UN with any real "power") is blighted by the wanton use of the veto by its permanent members to protect their "client" states even when those states are committing mass atrocities. And it doesn't help that the country fighting the most wars has a veto power.

    "3) If they get too testy with the US, the US will just boot them out from the UN Building and turn it into a Holiday Inn. There's been a lot of calls in Congress in the past for booting them as well as the several times the States withheld payments."

    Typical US foreign policy (dominate them) and diplomacy (if they don't do as told, threaten them). If the US does boot out the UN there would no shortage of countries eager to host it considering the economic benefits it brings.

    "Which is just a load of hot air because all the governments involved carry sovereign power. They are each their own highest authority so answer to no one except another sovereign nature, and only if they butt heads."

    Where countries have signed and ratified international treaties they are expected to be bound by those treaties. So in theory governments have to also answer to those treaties that they have signed up for. In practice the powerful countries have trampled on the sovereign rights of weak countries, and at the same time disregard the international laws to which they have signed.

    "The UN does not have sovereign authority, and if it did it would by definition usurp sovereign power from everyone else."

    The UN only has the powers that its member countries assigned it. And the only real power that it has is the UN Security Council which is the only body that can enforce (some types of) UN resolutions. But the ultimate power of the UNSC lies with its 5 permanent members, which in practice means the US/UK/France - because those 3 have been the most persistent in throwing their weight around and abusing the UN for their own gains.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      "Outside of the "5 eyes" the amount of "slurping, snooping and pooping" by the rest of the world is minuscule in comparison."

      I don't recall Russia or China being part of the 5 Eyes, yet we KNOW they have Big Brother ambitions.

      "Where countries have signed and ratified international treaties they are expected to be bound by those treaties. So in theory governments have to also answer to those treaties that they have signed up for. In practice the powerful countries have trampled on the sovereign rights of weak countries, and at the same time disregard the international laws to which they have signed."

      Those treaties are between sovereign states. And like I said, most of these come after the two-plus countries end up butting heads with each other over some issue. What actually enforces those treaties is the threat of retaliation from the other party. Finally, as noted, the treaty has to be ratified or otherwise accepted by the sovereign state to have any force (IOW, it has to submit to the agreement. And what happens if a country decides to withdraw from or otherwise ignore a treaty as ink on a page?

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