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Five-eyes partners dilute UN resolution criticising metadata collection

We need privacy, but not too much, say US and allies

The “five eyes” surveillance partners – the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand – have joined forces to nobble a UN General Assembly committee's statements on digital privacy.

While the General Assembly's human rights committee has adopted a non-binding resolution saying that “unlawful or arbitrary” mass surveillance, interception and data collection are “highly intrusive acts” and a violation of the right to privacy.

However, Bloomberg and Reuters both report so-called metadata collection – the mass sweep of the identity of people using the Internet to communicate, their IP addresses, the identities of those they communicate with, and in some cases the Websites they visit – was removed from the resolution so that it could pass by consensus.

Both newsagencies quote unnamed diplomats as saying the resolution had called metadata collection “highly intrusive”, but that reference was dropped at the behest of the US and its allies.

An Australian delegate is quoted by Reuters as calling metadata collection “an important element of the investigation” of “criminal or terrorist threats”.

The resolution was drafted by Germany (whose chancellor Angela Merkel was spied on by the NSA) and Brazil (president Dilma Roussef's private communications snooped).

Metadata manages to still get a mention in the resolution: “certain types of metadata, when aggregated, can reveal personal information and give an insight into an individual's behaviour, social relationships, private preferences and identity”, the resolution states.

The passing of the resolution by the committee makes it likely that it will be adopted by the UN General Assembly in December.

A Canadian delegate told Reuters the metadata discussion is going to have to go beyond diplomats to include “governments, industry, civil society and the technical community.” ®

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