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UN Human Rights Chief: Surveillance Backlash Akin to Anti-Aparthied Movement

Navi Pillay: It is 'very important that governments now want to discuss the matters of mass surveillance and right to privacy in a serious way.'

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. (Photo: EPA)The international outcry in response to leaks provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is similar to the backlash against the apartheid regime in South Africa, UN human rights chief Navanethem "Navi" Pillay said during a radio interview Thursday.

"I see how combined and collective action by everybody can end serious violations of human rights," said the High Commissioner for Human Rights speaking on BBC's Radio 4 Today program, "and really that experience inspires me to go on and address the issue of internet (privacy) which right now is extremely troubling because the revelations of surveillance have implications for human rights."

A South African of Indian Tamil origin, Pillay was the first non-white woman judge of the High Court of South Africa. The Guardian reports:

The former international criminal court judge said that her encounters with serious human rights abuses, which included serving on the Rwanda tribunal, did not make her take internet privacy less seriously.

"I don't grade human rights," she said. "I feel I have to look after and promote the rights of all persons. I'm not put off by the lifetime experience of violations I have seen."

Pillay, who was selected last week by the UN General Assembly to prepare a report on the protection and promotion of privacy in light of international surveillance revelations, added that it is "very important that governments now want to discuss the matters of mass surveillance and right to privacy in a serious way."

In addition to Pillay's report, the General Assembly voted unanimously December 18 to adopt a resolution affirming "that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including the right to privacy."

Pillay made the comments to internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners Lee, the show's guest host, who also commented during the segment that Snowden had done the world a favor by revealing the widespread spying being undergone by certain governments, most notably the United States and U.K.

When asked if he thought Snowden had "done us all a favor," Berners Lee responded: "In a word, yes."

"Was there anything else he could have done? Was there any other channel he could have gone through? I think it has been established that there was not," he said.

"Has he gone to the trouble of doing it as a journalist or with a journalist to make sure that the data he is putting out there in public is carefully selected so as not to harm individuals, so as not to do unnecessary harm to countries, so as to make the point that he needs to make without doing any more damage?" he asked, adding that he believed Snowden should be regarded as a "really important part of the system."

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