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Issue

Communications Data Retention

The mass retention of individuals' communications records, outside the context of any criminal investigation or business purpose, amounts to the compilation of dossiers on each and every one of us, our friends, family and colleagues.

Under the justification of tackling terrorism and crime, several countries worldwide have implemented regulation that obliges providers of communication services or networks to retain traffic and location data generated by mobile and landline phones, fax and email. For example, the Data Retention Directive, approved by the European Union in 2006, requires that every telecommunications company in Europe must retain their customers’ records for a period of between six months and two years.

The mass collection and retention of information creates challenges for the right to privacy. Broad-ranging data retention policies result in the indiscriminate creation of vast dossiers of information on everyone’s activities, including location data and communications with friends, families and work colleagues. There are alternative methods of surveillance that are less disproportionate, for example, requiring a court order to allow operators to retain data related just to a specific individual suspected of criminal activity.

We scrutinize the deployment and abuses of data retention policies, and oppose certain policies when we believe them to be dangerous. We work closely with civil society groups and industry to minimize harm, and we closely monitor attempts to expand the reach of data retention policy into new forms of communications, e.g. search engines and social networking.

Communications Data Retention

Blog
Philippe M. Frowd's picture

In the wake of recent revelations about the NSA’s extensive surveillance powers over foreigners and American citizens, an ever-fuller picture of mass surveillance is being drawn in the US, the UK, and across the Western world. But what about clandestine surveillance practices in African states? How do they approximate or differ from those we’ve heard so much about in the last few weeks? A recent case from West Africa can help us begin to answer these questions.

In March, Benin saw its own wiretapping scandal involving familiar elements: accusations of executive overreach and a telecoms company accused of collaborating with state surveillance. 

Blast
Carly Nyst's picture

A committee of Australian MPs reviewing a package of proposals by the Attorney General have raised serious concerns about their potential implications for privacy and civil liberties.

In considering a proposal to drastically expand the country’s data retention practices, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security slammed the Attorney-General for failing to provide sufficient information about the proposed changes, noting that the controversial proposal “was only accorded just over two lines of text”. Should a data retention regime be introduced, said the Committee, it must only apply to metadata, excluding content and internet browsing data, and should be subject to a rigorous oversight regime.

In the media
Publisher: 
Wired UK
Publication date: 
25-Jun-2013
Author(s): 
Liat Clark
Original story link: 

Meanwhile, UK charity Privacy International warns that the public simply needs to be wary of what information it chooses to share with any internet company.

Blog
Mike Rispoli's picture

Britain's spy agency, GCHQ, is secretly conducting mass surveillance by tapping fibre optic cables, giving it access to huge amounts of data on both innocent citizens and targeted suspects, according to a report in the Guardian.

Mass, indiscriminate surveillance of this kind goes against an individual's fundamental human right to privacy. The scope and scale of this program, which monitors the entire British public and much of the world, is neither necessary nor proportionate and thus, unjustifiable.

Blog
Anna Fielder's picture

Trade has often been a positive driver in encouraging countries to adopt data protection laws, to ensure compliance and ability to conduct business with the European Union and other privacy-respecting partners. However, when free trade agreements are negotiated in secret and influenced by powerful business interests, the result is a severe watering down of existing privacy protections. 

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

Below is an excerpt of an article that recently appeared in Melbourne, Australia's The Age, written by Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International:

"Mass surveillance of a country's citizens by its government can no longer be said to be the preserve of authoritarian and dictatorial states.

The publication last week by The Guardian of classified National Security Agency documents has exposed the extent of surveillance by the US government, throwing into question the security and privacy of the communications of people around the world.

Not only does the US government have carte blanche access to data collected by phone companies about every single phone communication conducted on American soil, but it also has a direct line into records kept by internet companies such as Google, Microsoft and Twitter. In short, the US has the ability to spy on citizens of almost every country across the globe.

In the media
Publisher: 
Salon
Publication date: 
15-Jun-2013
Author(s): 
Natasha Lennard
Original story link: 

“The foreign secretary has told us that if you are a law-abiding citizen, then you have nothing to fear. We’ve heard this excuse before; it’s the sorry line the governments trot out to appease the public," said Mike Rispoli, spokesman for Privacy International.

In the media
Publisher: 
BBC World Service
Publication date: 
14-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International, joins "Have Your Say" to talk about the impact on privacy when governments use mass surveillance for intelligence gathering.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Economist
Publication date: 
14-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Flourishing surveillance abroad may have a surprising impact back home. As more communications are stored on servers far from the citizens who created them, domestic intelligence services are increasingly trying to track activity overseas, says Carly Nyst of Privacy International.

In the media
Publisher: 
Globo News
Publication date: 
13-Jun-2013
Original story link: 

Privacy International's Head of International Advocacy Carly Nyst sits down with GloboNews in Brazil to talk about government surveillance and data protection laws around the world.

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