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UNITED NATIONS — Brazil’s president delivered a stinging rebuke today to the United States over its surveillance program that has swept up data from billions of telephone calls and emails that have passed through Brazil — including her own.
She also called on the global body to create a framework of Internet regulation to halt the U.S. and other nations from using it as the “new battlefield” of espionage.
Addressing the U.N. General Assembly on the first day of its annual meeting, President Dilma Rousseff accused the U.S. of violating Brazil’s sovereignty with what she called a “grave violation of human rights and of civil liberties.”
“In the absence of the respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for the relationship among nations,” Rousseff said. “Friendly governments and societies that seek to build a true strategic partnership, as in our case, cannot allow recurring illegal actions to take place as if they were normal. They are unacceptable.”
Last week, she shelved an upcoming state trip to the U.S. in a show of anger over the U.S. National Security Agency program.
Brazil is an important hub for trans-Atlantic fiber optic cables. The NSA, tasked with intercepting potential terror communications, also reportedly hacked into the computer network of state-run oil company Petrobras.
Rousseff said the NSA also collected economic and strategic corporate data, as well as messages by Brazilian diplomats, including to the United Nations, and from her own office.
She said Brazilian citizens’ personal data “was intercepted indiscriminately.”
“The arguments that the illegal interception of information and data aims at protecting nations against terrorism cannot be sustained,” Rousseff said. Brazil “knows how to protect itself. We reject, fight and do not harbor terrorist groups,” she added.
Rousseff said she has demanded an apology from the U.S. and assurances that the electronic snooping will stop.
The Obama administration has said its surveillance program does not examine the context of the intercepted messages without evidence they are suspicious, though reports in Brazilian media outlets based on leaked NSA documents indicated that Rousseff’s own emails were read.
The Brazilian government recently announced it was making a strong push to protect itself from NSA spying by walling itself off from the U.S.-centric Internet. Some measures include laying fiber optic cables directly to Europe and neighboring South American nations, building new Internet exchanges in Brazil to route traffic away from the U.S., and creating a government-run and encrypted email system.
Many experts question how effective such measures might be, noting that the capabilities of the NSA could likely still carry out its spying regardless of those safeguards. Legal experts argue that instead of trying to beat the NSA in a technology “arms race,” strong international privacy laws should be enacted in an effort to halt the U.S. spying.
Rousseff called on the U.N. to lead a multilateral effort to create a framework on how governments use the Internet so that it’s done in a fashion that “guarantees freedom of expression, security and respect for human rights.”
“Information and telecommunication technologies cannot be the new battlefield between states,” Rousseff said at the U.N. “Now is the time for us to create the conditions to prevent cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war through espionage, sabotage and attacks against the systems and infrastructure of other nations.”