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Carly Nyst's picture

As privacy and free expression advocates hail the demise of the Data Retention Directive at the hands of the European Court of Justice, one large question is looming in the midst of celebration.

Now what? 

More specifically, what will be its impact of the national laws of the European Union countries? What steps should EU governments be taking to ensure the Court’s decision is given effect? What are the implications for communications service providers who have been collecting and storing data in accordance with the Directive for many years? How can we ensure that this harmful practice is ceased immediately?

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Kenneth Page's picture

Global problems require global solutions. One of the significant emerging threats to human rights and democracy today is the incredible and mostly unaccountable spread of surveillance technologies.

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Carly Nyst's picture

In response to a consultation being undertaken by the UN in accordance with December’s General Assembly resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age, Privacy International today called on the United Nations to recognise that mass surveillance is incompatible with human rights.

The submission to the Office of the High Commissioner to Human Rights confronts some of the biggest challenges to the right to privacy in the digital age, debunks some of the justifications put forth by the Five Eyes governments in response to the Snowden revelations, and argues that States owe human rights obligations to all individuals subject to their jurisdiction.

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Kenneth Page's picture

Surveillance companies selling mass and intrusive spy technologies to human rights-abusing governments often are benefitting from the financial and institutional support from their home government, revealing a more closely-linked relationship between the sector and the State than previously believed.

Recent revelations concerning the funding of Hacking Team's surveillance technology with public money highlights the role of states in funding the development of surveillance technologies and companies. This discovery was preceded by the discovery that the South African Government funded the development of the mass surveillance system Zebra, made by VASTech. And with State supporting of national business abroad, including the UK promoting cyber-security exports, we are seeing a variety of ways the state is enabling the commercial surveillance market.

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Edin Omanovic's picture

The market for surveillance technologies has expanded so much in recent years that oversight has been totally unable to keep up, which has led to devastating consequences in the lives of human rights defenders in repressive regimes around the world.

According to a new study released today by Privacy International, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and Digitale Gesellschaft, international efforts to oversee the trade in surveillance technologies are out-dated and urgently need to be updated in order to keep up in the digital age. Ensuring that export regulations are fit for purpose is a vital part of an overall strategy to ensure the surveillance industry does not continue to trample upon human rights and facilitate internal repression.

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Dr Richard Tynan's picture

For some time, many in the privacy and security community hoped for a completely open-source mobile phone, one that would allow for code to be examined and strengthened to prevent malicious attacks to a user's privacy.

So when Canonical, the company that primarily funds Ubuntu GNU/Linux, announced it was entering the mobile phone market, we were among the many who hailed this development. Given the company's track record, it was believed that the open-source philosophy of Ubuntu would carry through to their mobile phone version. In light of what we now know about the fallibility of mobile phones, which can enable highly invasive and mass surveillance, the need for this kind of phone has only increased recently.

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Edin Omanovic's picture

UPDATE: The past few days have seen more movement in Switzerland. The Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs responded swiftly to our request for official clarification. The SECO confirmed to PI that "all licence requests for the export of technologies for internet monitoring were withdrawn" by the applicants themselves, and that some of the requests for mobile phone monitoring technology have also been withdrawn.

A further follow-up by Swiss media has revealed that the Government has now approved four licences for mobile phone monitoring technologies, which would be largely destined for countries that have been supplied comparable goods since 2010. Speaking with the media, the Swiss Government said they did take human rights concerns into account, but viewed that the risk for misuse was low for these particular exports.

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Emily Linnea Mahoney's picture

In the late eighteenth century in Germany, ‘anthropologist’ Johann Blumenbach published a degenerative hypothesis that linked cranium and facial profiles to supposed character traits and accordingly divided human beings into five different races: the Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American.1

In the 1870s, Alphonse Bertillon, a police officer in France, started a trend to identify criminals based on facial characteristics, alongside subsequent use of the camera to photograph and identify repeat offenders.

In the 1930s in Nazi Germany, IBM computer scientists devised an identification system in aid of the Third Reich’s attempt to systematically decimate entire populations.2

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Matthew Rice's picture

Private surveillance companies selling some of the most intrusive surveillance systems available today are in the business of purchasing security vulnerabilities of widely-used software, and bundling it together with their own intrusion products to provide their customers unprecedented access to a target’s computer and phone.

It's been known for some time that governments, usually at a pricey sum, purchase such exploits, known as zero- and one-day exploits, from security researchers to use for surveillance and espionage. While the focus has been on governments directly purchasing these exploits, it is equally important to highlight private surveillance firms role in the market of exploit sales.

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Kenneth Page's picture

Only a few days after it was reported that intrusive surveillance technology developed and sold by Italian surveillance company Hacking Team was found in some of the most repressive countries in the world, Privacy International has uncovered evidence which suggests the company has received over €1 million in public financing.

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