Xbox Live Gold price increase Nvidia Shield update Third stimulus check details Microsoft AI chatbot patent Bernie Sanders' mittens memes Returning stimulus money to the IRS Galaxy S21 review

Playing the 'fear card': UN privacy expert slams online spying

As the world learns more about WikiLeaks' claims of CIA hacks, the UN special rapporteur says that privacy may not fully exist in the digital age.

James Martin/CNET

Think the CIA is the only government agency that could be listening in?

Governments the world over are playing the "fear card" with their citizens, pushing through "extremely intrusive" surveillance laws that are a major threat to privacy.

That's the verdict of the United Nations' special rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, who has released a scathing report on the creeping threat of surveillance in the digital age.

According to Cannataci, it's a case of world leaders trying to look busy in the face of growing global security threats, passing surveillance laws that "legitimize practices that should never have been implemented."

The rapporteur's comments come as tech users the world over question their privacy amid WikiLeaks reports of CIA hacking.

WikiLeaks this week released a cache of documents reportedly exposing CIA surveillance tactics that let it hack into phones, smart TVs and computers of private citizens across the world. While the CIA has not confirmed whether the documents are real, the leak has raised questions about just who could be listening in to our private communications.

"The issue of governmental surveillance deserves more attention than ever," said Cannataci. "I am deeply concerned that the right to privacy will simply not experience a full transition to the digital age."

The rapporteur raised concerns about intrusive surveillance laws passed in the US, UK, Germany and France, saying that governments and world leaders need to respect privacy as a "truly universal right" -- especially when it comes to surveillance carried out online.

"True political leadership does not play the fear card," he said. "What the world needs is not more State-sponsored shenanigans on the internet but rational, civilized agreement about appropriate State behavior in cyberspace."

Special Reports: All of CNET's most in-depth features in one easy spot.

It's Complicated: This is dating in the age of apps. Having fun yet? These stories get to the heart of the matter.