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PI submits stakeholder reports to Human Rights Council on the right to privacy in China, Senegal and Mexico

Privacy International this week submitted stakeholder reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council1 about the human rights records of China, Senegal and Mexico. The reports, prepared in preparation with our partners in the respective countries, analyse the extent to which the right to privacy is respected and protected, and detail instances of privacy violations.

The stakeholder reports will inform the questions asked by members of the Human Rights Council when China, Senegal and Mexico are reviewed later this year as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a peer evaluation that takes place every four years in Geneva.2 States are required to answer questions about their human rights record and committ to making improvements before their next review. The UPR is thus a unique opportunity for NGOs like Privacy International to have States recognise and take responsibility for human rights abuses.

In our report on The Right to Privacy in China, we focussed on the pervasive surveillance, censorship and monitoring of telephone conversations, fax transmissions, e-mails, text messages, and internet communications in China. We highlighted that a “cyber police force”, maintained by the Bureau of State Security and the provincial and municipal state security bureaus and estimated to include some 30,000 people, is tasked with inspecting and controlling the internet, searching web sites and critical nodes within web sites (particularly online discussion forums) in order to block or shut down sites wherever they contain content disapproved of by the government, including potential state secrets, "anti-Party and anti-socialist speech" and criticism of the country’s leadership. We called on China to cease intrusive surveillance and interception of digital communications, ensuring individuals the right to privacy online, and to enact a national data protection law, ensuring that the draft bill on personal information is adopted as soon as possible. 

In The Right to Privacy in Senegal we expressed concern that the national independent data protection authority had ceased operation because of inaequate funding. We noted the serious implications of mandatory registration of SIM card for the enjoyment of the right to privacy. SIM registration undermines the ability of users to communicate anonymous and disproportionately disadvantages the most marginalised groups. It can have a discriminatory effect by excluding users from accessing mobile networks. It also facilities surveillance and makes tracking and monitoring of users easier for law enforcement authorities. 

Finally, in examining The Right to Privacy in Mexico, we noted the concerning development that Mexico's Department of Defence last year purchased surveillance technology for the Mexican army, that is able to mine text messages from mobile phones, intercept voice calls and emails, log instant messages, and even covertly turn on a mobile phone’s microphone. Also in 2012, Mexico adopted surveillance legislation that grants the Mexican law enforcement authorities the right to collect, without warrant and in real-time, user geographical data from cell phones. There is significant potential for abuse under this law, and the Mexican government is seemingly insensitive to the fact that most mobile phones today transmit continuous and detailed data about users’ location, meaning that the police will have access to very comprehensive and pervasive data. The legislation is intended to enable the government “to investigate possible crimes more effectively”. However, without adequate safeguards, such legislation, which endows government authorities with broad surveillance powers, compromises Mexican citizens’ right to privacy, and is in any event an inappropriate and disproportionate response to the intended purpose. In our report, we recommended that the government repeal the law, or amend it such that government authorities are required to obtain a judicial warrant before being able to access geolocation data.

We worked with the Law and Technology Centre at the University of Hong Kong on the China report, Jonction on the Senegal report and the Autonomous University of Mexico State on the Mexico report. The States will be reviewed by the Human Rights Council in October 2013. 

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