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Sixth Committee: Legal

Topic A: Mass Surveillance  

Countries have established espionage organizations and agencies that collect intelligence on other nations. This committee will be tasked to find a way to balance the right to privacy and effective international surveillance. In 2013, a whistleblower from the United States leaked legal and illegal intelligence gathering programs showing that the U.S. was spying on allies in the UN. In 2014, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights scrutinized surveillance practice. Some argued that mass surveillance is a violation of sovereignty. Others assert that it is necessary for national security to surveil other countries. Past Resolutions have included the General Assembly Resolution 68/167 which “calls on all States to review their procedures, practices and legislation related to communications surveillance, interception and collection of personal data and emphasizes the need for States to ensure the full and effective implementation of their obligations under international human rights law.” Also, a UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) was approved to see if the state use of intelligence gathering was in compliance with international law. The surveillance of other countries is crucial to maintaining a safe state; however, countries must maintain their own privacy at the same time. The purpose of this committee is to decide the extent to which countries should be able to collect intelligence on each other and to decide how to communicate shared intelligence effectively. This committee must determine if countries should be required to share what they find out about another country and how/if surveillance could be regulated. 


Topic B: Surveilling Citizens 

Countries surveil their citizens to maintain their own homeland security and ensure that there are no threats to the state taking place. This committee is tasked with deciding the extent to which countries are able to surveil their own citizens. Some countries have been accused of listening to their citizens by hacking computers or intercepting calls. The expectation of privacy in some states is at virtually zero. Increasingly adept technology has allowed for surveillance within countries to make its way into all aspects of life. The UN has reaffirmed the “human right to privacy” and urged for there to be a greater inquiry into the topic of surveillance. Furthermore, a speech was given at the Human Rights Council in 2017, “denouncing current surveillance legislation and calling for States to respect privacy as a universal right in the digital age.” This committee’s objective is to determine if restrictions must be placed on countries so they do not infringe on the rights of citizens. Countries are already trying to mitigate surveillance within their own states; however, this committee is tasked with calling upon more countries to do so. Questions about the nation's sovereignty and the UN’s ability to enforce laws will come into play. The ethics of surveilling citizens is a contentious topic and this committee will set a precedent for the world to follow. Whether governments are “looking upon” citizens or hacking into technology, this committee will decide the boundaries. Also, discussion of censorship by governments may arise and it will be important to keep in mind the UN’s role in recommending laws.