Alfred de Zayas, U.N. special envoy in equitable order, told the U.N. Human Rights Council access to "truthful and reliable" information from diverse sources is essential for people to play an effective role in public affairs.
German protesters gathered last weekend for an event dubbed "Freedom Not Fear." Tens of thousands of demonstrators turned out in Berlin to rally against the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain's signals intelligence program gathering of databases of people's email, online chat and Internet browsing histories without prior court authorization.
"I am dismayed that notwithstanding lip service to democracy, too many governments seem to forget that in a democracy, it is the people who are sovereign," de Zayas said in his prepared remarks Wednesday.
NSA contractor Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Moscow. He faces charges in the United States, including two espionage-related counts, for leaking information about a surveillance program dubbed Prism.
De Zayas said human rights defenders and whistle-blowers deserve "specific protection" from prosecution.
"[They] have in some contexts been accused of being unpatriotic, whereas they perform, in reality, a democratic service to their countries and to the enjoyment of human rights of their compatriots," he said.