NEW YORK (Reuters) - South American nations are jointly exploring the creation of a communications system to curtail U.S. spying in the region, Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said on Wednesday.
He said the idea was to set up a common platform to “minimize risks of being spied on” and added the project was an outgrowth of the disclosures by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden on U.S. spying worldwide.
The new project is under consideration by the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which groups the 12 governments of the continent. UNASUR is based in Quito, Ecuador’s capital.
“We have decided to begin to work on new Internet communication systems of our countries, of our societies, to avoid continuing being the object and prey of illegal spying that U.S. spying entities have developed against us,” Patino said in an interview with Reuters at Ecuador’s mission to the United Nations in New York City.
UNASUR’s defense council - made up of the region’s defense ministers - is in charge of examining how to implement the idea.
“The ministers of defense have instructed their technical teams to examine the project,” he said. “I understand there have been meetings at a technical level to advance the creation to minimize the risk of espionage.”
Those meetings had taken place in recent weeks, he added.
Latin American countries raised a storm of protest after, according to NSA leaks by Snowden, the agency spied on an array of nations in the region.
On Tuesday, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff accused the United States of violating human rights and international law through espionage that included spying on her email.
Rousseff had expressed her displeasure last week by calling off a high-profile state visit to the United States scheduled for October over reports that the NSA had been spying on Brazil.
She proposed an international framework for governing the Internet and said Brazil would adopt legislation and technology to protect it from illegal interception of communications.
Asked what technical consultations Ecuador had with Brazil and others on the contemplated regional communications platform, he said: “The UNASUR defense council is already trying to move from words to concrete action.”
Asked if the new platform contemplated server technology, he said: “I can’t tell you technically about this because I don’t have more precise information but I understand that is being worked on.”
“(The project) is in diapers,” he said, referring to its embryonic stage.
“We need technological development,” he said. “This has to be constructed but all our countries have started working in this direction.”
Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia offered Snowden asylum after Ecuador first studied the idea, Patino said. Snowden is in Russia after Moscow granted him a year’s asylum on August 1.
Snowden worked with WikiLeaks whose leader, Julian Assange, is in Ecuador’s embassy in London seeking safe conduct to the South American nation.
Assange has been in the embassy for more than a year to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning over allegations by two women of sexual assault and rape, which he denies. He cannot leave the embassy because Britain will not give him safe passage.
He fears that if sent to Sweden he could be extradited to the United States to face potential charges over the release of thousands of confidential U.S. documents on WikiLeaks.
Patino said he meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in July to resolve the diplomatic deadlock.
“We agreed on that occasion to create commissions of jurists between our countries to work on that,” he said.
He said Ecuador’s newly appointed ambassador to Britain, Juan Falconi, had arrived in London and was waiting to present his credentials to Queen Elizabeth.
“We have asked our new ambassador to advance the creation of (bilateral) commissions ... to seek a solution for safe conduct through legal dialogue based on international norms.”
Editing by Lisa Shumaker