The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights believes the world owes a “great deal” to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, saying he should not face trial for his revelations of sweeping state surveillance as they have served the public interest.
“Those who disclose human rights violations should be protected: we need them,” Commissioner Navi Pillay told reporters on Wednesday.
“I see some of it here in the case of Snowden, because his revelations go to the core of what we are saying about the need for transparency, the need for consultation," she said. "We owe a great deal to him for revealing this kind of information."
Following the NSA revelations last year, Snowden was charged with theft, “unauthorized communication of national defense information” and “willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorized person.”
The last two charges were brought under the 1917 Espionage Act.
Pillay would not comment on whether or not US President Barack Obama should pardon the former NSA contractor, noting he had yet to be convicted of any crime.
“As a former judge I know that if he is facing judicial proceedings we should wait for that outcome," she said. Reiterating that Snowden should be viewed as a "human rights defender," she added, "I am raising right here some very important arguments that could be raised on his behalf so that these criminal proceedings are averted."
Meanwhile, Pillay warned that “coercion” of companies to grant secret and unfettered access to private individuals’ information stems from a “disturbing” lack of transparency which has come to characterize government surveillance.
The fundamentally clandestine nature of mass surveillance “is severely hindering efforts to ensure accountability for any resulting human rights violations,” Pillay said.
The commissioner warned that due to the current climate, it is increasingly difficult to even know when violations are taking place, despite the existence of “a clear international legal framework” which clearly sets out “governments’ obligations to protect our right to privacy, and other related human rights.”
Her comments follow a recent report, entitled ‘The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age’, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly later this year.
The report warns that government mass surveillance is “emerging as a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure,” and that practices in many states reveal “a lack of adequate national legislation and/or enforcement, weak procedural safeguards, and ineffective oversight.”
The global body, which views privacy as a human right, believes that mass surveillance is a de facto violation of article 17 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Article 17 of the Covenant, which 168 countries are party to, states: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy.”