By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – In her opening speech at the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York on Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff, as expected, took the opportunity to criticize the United States’ spying program in Brazil, and announced her intention to protect the country from further unwelcome surveillance.
The speech came just one week after Rousseff decided to postpone her October 23rd state visit to the United States in the wake of the fallout from the revelations that included allegations that the National Security Agency (NSA) monitored Brazil’s state-controlled Petrobras, Rousseff’s inner circle of advisers as well as the President herself. Her decision, billed as a mutual agreement by both parties, was seen as a major blow to U.S.-Brazil relations and an effort to strengthen her popularity at home as she prepares for next year’s election.
Rousseff used her speech at the United Nations to rail against the NSA’s spying, deeming it an issue of utmost “relevance and gravity” to the international community.
“Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and, as such, it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff said at the annual gathering in New York. “Never should the right to safety of the citizens in one country be guaranteed through the violation of fundamental human and civil rights of the citizens of another country.”
Rousseff also dismissed the argument that the surveillance program is key to the United States’ national security goals. In the past, the United States – including Secretary of State John Kerry – has defended the spying as part of the country’s post 9/11 anti-terrorism initiatives.
“Brazil, Mr. President, knows how to protect itself. Brazil, Mr. President, repudiates, combats and does not harbor terrorist groups,” Rousseff continued.
“We are, Mr. President, facing a grave case of violation of human rights and civil liberties, of invasion and capture of secret information related to business activities and overall, disrespect to the national sovereignty of my country.”
President Rousseff also used her speech to introduce new legislation that would protect Brazilian telecommunication from further interceptions. Brazil would, she said, present a new framework governing worldwide internet usage that will protect the information and data that flows through the World Wide Web.
“Telecommunication and information technologies cannot become a new battlefield between states. This is the moment to create conditions to prevent cyberspace from becoming an instrument of war, through spying, sabotage and attacks against systems and infrastructure of other countries.”
A new law that would force foreign companies like Google to store data on Brazilian clients on Brazil-based servers is currently under discussion in Congress. The government also has plans to build its own underwater, transatlantic fiber-optic cable that will connect Brazilian internet users directly to Europe, circumventing U.S.-controlled portions of the net.
The U.S. spying allegations have sparked a wave of public outcry and anger in the upper echelons of the Brazilian government since they first emerged in July. News of the American-run surveillance program first came from NSA contractor turned whistleblower, Edward Snowden, by way of Glenn Greenwald, a Rio de Janeiro-based journalist.