New Delhi, Sept. 12: India has joined the UN human rights chief in criticising the US and the UK over their alleged online surveillance of citizens and foreign governments, escalating its protest ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington later this month.
Dilip Sinha, India’s top diplomat to the UN in Geneva, has said New Delhi supports concerns expressed by Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, over the surveillance system that documents suggest also targeted the Indian embassy in Washington.
“We welcome the high commissioner’s attention to the protection of the right to privacy and other human rights in the context of modern communications technology,” Sinha told the UN Human Rights Council at its meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.
The statement is India’s clearest criticism at an international forum of the US and the UK for the broad online spying programmes of their intelligence wings that were exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden earlier this year.
Critics of the Manmohan Singh administration have accused the government of meekly accepting the surveillance programmes run by the US National Security Agency that tapped into electronic systems at the Indian embassy in Washington, according to documents leaked by Snowden, a former contractor at the intelligence agency.
Sinha’s unequivocal support for Pillay’s concerns is aimed at softening that domestic criticism and at registering India’s worries with the US as part of a global attempt to limit future surveillance against foreign governments, senior officials here told The Telegraph.
“We’ve raised concerns about the surveillance programmes bilaterally with the US but when you’re talking to Washington, global pressure is the most effective way to get them to actually change,” said a senior diplomat.
On Monday, Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council that the global body needs to develop mechanisms to defend against the “potential for dramatic intrusion on individuals’ privacy”.
“The broad scope of national security surveillance regimes in countries including the United States and the United Kingdom, and the impact of these regimes on individuals’ right to privacy and other human rights, continues to raise concerns,” Pillay said, speaking to the human rights council. “I would urge all states to ensure that adequate safeguards are in place against security agency overreach and to protect the right to privacy and other human rights.”
But when external affairs minister Salman Khurshid was first asked about the spying allegations at a media briefing alongside US secretary of state John Kerry in New Delhi in late June, he appeared to defend the US. “I think the President of the United States has already spoken of this and has indicated in their information that in several countries terrorist strikes were prevented because of some of this work that they have been able to do,” Khurshid said.
A week later, asked again about the snooping allegations on the sidelines of an Association of South East Asian Nations meet in Brunei in July, the minister said: “It is not actually snooping.”