Nov 26, 2014 · 1 minute

The United Nations on Tuesday passed a resolution determining that privacy is a basic human right, placing the international organization at direct odds with the United States, which voted earlier this month to stop a bill curbing National Security Agency programs from advancing in the Senate. The UN also said that the programs have a deleterious effect on freedom of expression.

The resolution is the latest example of foreign governments and their representatives taking issue with the surveillance operations conducted by the NSA and its British counterpart, the Government Communication Headquarters, on millions of people around the entire world. It is not legally binding, but it does ask governments to work to preserve their citizens' privacies.

It seeks to realize those goals by publishing strict guidelines concerning surveillance efforts, which must be "pursuant to laws that are public, clear, and non-discriminatory" and "employed only to further legitimate state objectives, such as law enforcement or national security, and it must also be proportionate to those ends," according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The NSA's surveillance programs probably wouldn't be allowed under those guidelines, the ACLU says, because of their widespread use and the secrecy with which they are conducted. Yet the resolution is unlikely to lead to any legitimate reform in the US, especially not with Republicans taking control of the Senate while the Islamic State continues to rise.

But it does place in stark relief the difference with which the US and its allies see surveillance programs and how the subjects of that surveillance view the efforts. Snooping on millions of people isn't considered normal and acceptable everywhere; just in places like the US and UK.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]