The United Nations said that the United States has pledged not to spy on the world body's communications after a report that the National Security Agency had gained access to the UN video conferencing system.
The United Nations contacted US authorities after the spying revelations were made by German news magazine Der Spiegel in August, citing documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
I understand that the US authorities have given assurances that United Nations communications are not and will not be monitored, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Wednesday. Nesirky declined to comment further when asked if US authorities had previously spied on UN communications.
The United States has faced international criticism over its far-reaching global surveillance activities following Snowden's disclosure of previously secret documents this year.
US allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have protested over spying on foreign heads of state. Merkel's top foreign affairs and intelligence advisers were in Washington on Wednesday to question American officials over US spying in Germany.
The White House said last week the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor Merkel's communications, but did not deny that the chancellor may have been spied on in the past.
The inviolability of diplomatic missions, including the United Nations, has been well established in international law, and therefore all member states are expected to act accordingly, Nesirky said.
The 1961 Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations protects functions of the United Nations, diplomatic missions and other international organizations.
In related news the Washington Post alleged that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has hacked into data centers belonging to internet giants Google and Yahoo, according to information handed over from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
With this information, the Post states, the agency has the ability to observe hundreds of millions of personal user accounts, from across the world.
Ex-NSA contractor Snowden's document, dated January 9 2013, supposedly contains evidence that a program codenamed 'Muscular' had in the preceding 30 days collected more than 181 million pieces of data, including e-mails, text, audio and video messages.
The newspaper further alleged that the NSA also collected so-called 'metadata', or information on users sending content.
Both Yahoo and Google revealed their concern at the latest revelations. Google said in a press release it was “troubled by allegations of the government intercepting traffic between our data centers, and we are not aware of this activity.”
“We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping, which is why we continue to extend encryption across more and more Google services and links.
At Yahoo, a spokeswoman said: “We have strict controls in place to protect the security of our data centers, and we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency.”
NSA director Keith Alexander, meanwhile, denied the reports, stating that his agency is not authorized” to access the data of other companies.