The United Nations has told member states that they must respect its right to privacy following allegations that telecoms operator AT&T helped the US National Security Agency (NSA) spy on it – despite a previous pledge from the US that it wouldn’t.
Citing newly disclosed documents provided by government surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a report in the The New York Times claims that AT&T and the NSA had a “highly collaborative” relationship in which the company provided the NSA with UN communications and internet data from 2003 to 2013.
The leaked documents describe AT&T’s “extreme willingness to help” the NSA, which led to AT&T cooperating with the surveillance agency, enabling it to spy on the UN on a vast scale.
AT&T’s willingness to help the US government spy on its users even resulted in what’s described as a secret court order enabling the wiretapping of all internet connections at the New York headquarters of the UN, which uses AT&T to provide its communications.
The UN expected its communications to remain shielded from the US government and is now considering its response.
“We obviously have security and safety measures in place including through … our information and technology department. We are looking at this and how best to respond,” UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci told reporters.
“The US authorities had previously given us assurances athey are not, and were not, monitoring our communications,” she continued.
According to the UN, the US pledged in 2013 that it wouldn’t spy on the UN following a report that the NSA had gained access to the UN’s video conferencing system.
“The inviolability of the UN is well established under international law and we expect member states to act accordingly and to respect and protect that inviolability,” added Maestracci.
AT&T has declined to comment about its collaboration with the NSA. “We don’t comment on matters of national security,” a spokesman said.
Last year, Germany and Brazil made alterations to a United Nations draft resolution on the issue of state surveillance. The two countries called for protection against government spying on communications and personal data.