The UN privacy chief has criticised the UK for what he calls a situation “far worse than anything George Orwell could have imagined in his book 1984”.
Joseph Cannataci has blasted the excessive surveillance on UK citizens, referring to it as “a rather bad joke as its citizens’ expense”.
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The mandate of the new post of UN special rapporteur on privacy is broad. Cannataci, who is a professor of law at the University of Malta, and uses neither Facebook nor Twitter, is empowered to review government policies on digital surveillance and the collection of personal data, and to identify activities that harm privacy protection without any compelling justification. He can also give his views on how the private sector should be addressing its human rights responsibilities in this field.
Despite the enormity of the task, much has already been achieved.
There are four main tasks he has set himself: drawing up a universal law on surveillance; tackling the business models of the big Internet companies; defining what “privacy” exactly entails; and raising awareness of these issues among the public. The Guardian quotes him as saying the world “needs a ‘Geneva convention for the internet” to safeguard data and combat the threat of massive clandestine digital surveillance.” Cannataci recognises that he will be unable to achieve this within his three-year mandate, or even if it is renewed, but believes that it is important to take a long-term view.
He acknowledges that Edward Snowden will be looked upon as “a traitor by some and a hero by others,” but says that his leaks were “very important” because they confirmed what many working in the fields of privacy and data protection had believed to be the case. Snowden’s revelations also demonstrated “the extent to which [government surveillance] has gone out of control,” something many hope Cannataci will try to address in his new role. Cannataci was chosen for the role after the first-ranked candidate, the Estonian Katrin Nyman-Metcalf, was blocked on the grounds that “she would not be a strong enough critic of US surveillance.”