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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

In the media
Publisher: 
My Broadband
Publication date: 
19-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Jan Vermuelen
Original story link: 

Privacy International (PI), a UK-based privacy rights group, recently wrote a letter to Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, regarding grants to the tune of R3.6-million provided to VASTech.

VASTech is one of the South African companies linked to to the so-called mass surveillance industry by WikiLeaks, which said VASTech’s Zebra system was used in Libya by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
HTXT.Africa
Publication date: 
08-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Adam Oxford
Original story link: 

Human rights organisation Privacy International (PI) has written to the South African government to ask why the Department of Trade and Industry used R3 563 506.45 of public money to fund the development of a telecoms surveillance tool capable of capturing up to 40 million minutes of voice calls a month, which was deployed by the  Libyan regime under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Countries: 
Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

If you were a Middle Eastern tyrant or a Central Asian strongman, and you suddenly found your position of power under threat, where would turn for assistance? Well, Paris, it seems, is actually pretty good start.

This week, the city that gave us a defining revolution based on the very idea that we as human beings are entitled to certain universal rights, plays host to some 1,000 exhibitors and 30,000 attendees as part of Milipol 2013, one of the world’s foremost trade shows for law enforcement agencies showcasing the latest tools in state security and internal repression.

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

Privacy International is pleased to announce the Surveillance Industry Index, the most comprehensive publicly available database on the private surveillance sector.

Over the last four years, Privacy International has been gathering information from various sources that details how the sector sells its technologies, what the technologies are capable of and in some cases, which governments a technology has been sold to. Through our collection of materials and brochures at surveillance trade shows around the world, and by incorporating certain information provided by Wikileaks and Omega Research Foundation, this collection of documents represents the largest single index on the private surveillance sector ever assembled. All told, there are 1,203 documents detailing 97 surveillance technologies contained within the database. The Index features 338 companies that develop these technologies in 36 countries around the world.

Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

On at least two separate occasions, the South African government has provided funding to a well-resourced surveillance company for the development of mass surveillance technologies, the very equipment found to be used by the Gaddafi's repressive military regime in Libya, according to documents uncovered by Privacy International.

In February 2008, sandwiched between funding for a mechanical grape conveyor belt, and funding to improve gear changing and engine efficiency, the South African Ministry of Trade provided R 870,822.45 of public finds to the surveillance company VASTech – specifically for the Zebra system. Two years later, in January 2010, the Ministry approved even more public money to VASTech, this time the amount to the tune of R 2,692,684.00.

In the media
Publisher: 
Wired UK
Publication date: 
14-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Chris Baraniuk
Original story link: 

Sam Smith, a technologist at Privacy International, said the unencrypted data could hypothetically relate to any of Microsoft's cloud services, from Hotmail and Outlook.com email accounts to Xbox Live, Office 365 and SkyDrive cloud storage.

This response seems unlikely to reassure Smith who commented, "Unless Microsoft takes immediate action to rectify this situation, any business or individual using their services to store or transmit sensitive data will have been fundamentally let down by a brand that suggested it was worthy of trust."

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a Comment originally publihsed by The Guardian, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:

From databases to mobile phone apps and SMS systems, GPS tracking and humanitarian drones to biometric registration, new technologies are rapidly becoming central to the delivery of humanitarian and development aid.

Refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict are having their irises scanned and their identity documents digitised. Nurses in Nigeria are using SMS systems to communicate HIV test results to health facilities. Cash is being delivered to those living in Kenya's slums through the M-Pesa mobile-phone banking system.

In the media
Publisher: 
Deutsche Welle
Publication date: 
08-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Ben Knight
Original story link: 

 "The telecommunications companies can actually do an astonishing amount to push back against this sort of surveillance," Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, told DW. "It's plain that the Tempora program is almost certainly unlawful… Companies don't have an obligation to comply with unlawful requests, and should they wish to challenge them, they would be well within their rights to do so, and would likely be successful."

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

Privacy International today is proud to announce our new project, Aiding Privacy, which aims to promote the right to privacy and data protection in the development and humanitarian fields. Below is an outline of the issues addressed in our new report released today, Aiding Surveillance.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world. The problem, however, is that there has been a systematic failure to critically contemplate the potential ill effects of deploying technologies in development and humanitarian initiatives, and in turn, to consider the legal and technical safeguards required in order to ensure the rights of individuals living in the developing world.

Blog
Dr Richard Tynan's picture

It was a throwaway line in a Washington Post article, one of the many stories about government surveillance in the past few months.

By September 2004, a new NSA technique enabled the agency to find cellphones even when they were turned off. [Joint Special Operations Command] troops called this “The Find,” and it gave them thousands of new targets, including members of a burgeoning al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq, according to members of the unit."

Being able to track a mobile phone, while switched off? It was the first time we had read about the NSA having such a capability, and a revelation that has far-reaching implications. For most consumers, when they turn off their handsets, they have a reasonable expectation that the device is powered off, is not emitting or receiving a signal, and does not have any piece of the mobile phone still 'on'.

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