Security

Nations hiding increased use of private companies for digital snooping on citizens

Satellite dishes are seen at GCHQ's outpost at Bude, close to where trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables come ashore in Cornwall, southwest England June 23, 2013. Britain's spy agency GCHQ has tapped fibre-optic cables that carry international phone and internet traffic and is sharing vast quantities of personal information with the U.S. National Security Agency, the Guardian newspaper said, after publishing details of top-secret surveillance programs exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.  REUTERS/Kieran Doherty  (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTX10Y4F

Satellite dishes are seen at GCHQ's outpost at Bude, close to where trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables come ashore in Cornwall, southwest England June 23, 2013. Britain's spy agency GCHQ has tapped fibre-optic cables that carry international phone and internet traffic and is sharing vast quantities of personal information with the U.S. National Security Agency, the Guardian newspaper said, after publishing details of top-secret surveillance programs exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. REUTERS/Kieran Doherty (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTX10Y4F  (REUTERS/Kieran Doherty. File)

The United Nations' top human rights official says her office sees strong evidence that governments on every continent are hiding their increasing reliance on private companies to snoop on citizens' digital lives.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the lack of transparency extends to governments' "de facto coercion" of companies to gain broad access to information and data on citizens without them knowing about it.

Her report Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly says her office's concerns about the erosion in privacy have increased since last year's revelations of U.S. and British mass surveillance, and stricter laws are needed to prevent violations and ensure accountability when digital technology and surveillance is misused.

It warns that mass surveillance is becoming "a dangerous habit rather than an exceptional measure."