A UN spokesperson said Monday that the UN plans to contact the US government about reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] hacked UN internal communications. The UN said that international treaties protect its offices and all diplomatic missions from interference, spying and eavesdropping. The German magazine Der Spiegel [media website, in German] reported [text, in German] Sunday that the NSA was able to monitor UN communications after it decoded the UN's internal video conferencing system last year. Der Spiegel referenced the classified documents that were stolen by former NSA worker Edward Snowden [JURIST profile], who has currently been granted asylum in Russia. According to Der Spriegel, the documents reveal that in addition to bugging the New York headquarters of the UN, the NSA has a surveillance program called the "Special Collection Service" [Reuters report], which has bugged over 80 embassies and consulates around the world.
Revelations surrounding US government surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked debate and controversy since the leak of confidential documents in June. Earlier this month US President Barack Obama [official website] proposed [transcript] a four-step reform to increase the credibility and legitimacy of the NSA and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). In July US lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] to address popular concerns about personal privacy and the FISC, mandating that the court be presided over by judges that are nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress. During the same month the FISC permitted Yahoo to declassify a redacted 2008 order [JURIST report] that the company comply with the FISA in data collection. Civil liberties groups, Google and Microsoft [JURIST reports] have directly challenged the court to declassify data collected under its orders. Other parties filed motions in federal court and the Supreme Court [JURIST reports] challenging the NSA surveillance program that benefited from the FISC's oversight.