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Issue

Communications Surveillance

Interception and monitoring of individuals' communications is becoming more widespread, more indiscriminate and more invasive, just as our reliance on electronic communications increases.

Nearly all major international agreements on human rights protect the right of individuals to be free from unwarranted surveillance. This guarantee has trickled down into national constitutional or legal provisions protecting the privacy of communications.

In most democratic countries, intercepts of oral, telephone and digital communications are initiated by law enforcement or intelligence agencies only after approval by a judge, and only during the investigation of serious crimes.
Yet government agencies continue to lobby for increased surveillance capabilities, particularly as technologies change. Communications surveillance has expanded to Internet and digital communications. In many countries, law enforcement agencies have required internet providers and telecommunications companies to monitor users’ traffic. Many of these activities are carried out under dubious legal basis and remain unknown to the public.

We have conducted investigations to uncover communications surveillance schemes and the technologies that enable communications surveillance. We also work with technology providers to promote the use of secure communications technologies, and have worked with human rights groups to train them in securing their communications. We continue to monitor the use of communications surveillance, advocate for transparency and independent authorization and oversight, and promote other safeguards against abuse.

Communications Surveillance

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Australia’s intelligence agencies have been conducting mass surveillance for more than half a century, routinely sharing the fruits of such labours with their Five Eyes allies in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand. Australian spying facilities are staffed by the NSA and the UK’s GCHQ, and Australian intelligence officers are routinely tasked with work by their Five Eyes counterparts.  Australia and its allies have infiltrated every aspect of the modern global communications system. And they have done it all in secret.

In the media
Publisher: 
TechWeek Europe
Publication date: 
10-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Tom Brewster
Original story link: 

Privacy International was cautious about the impact of the decision in Vienna, but was convinced this would make an impact on companies such as Britain’s Gamma International, which produces the FinFisher spying tool, and Italy’s Hacking Team, which offers competing technology.

Both have faced criticism after their code was uncovered in nations with poor human rights records.

“For the first time, intrusion technology such as those that Finfisher and Hacking Team sell will be explicitly and directly controlled for what that are – surveillance technologies,” Eric King, head researcher at Privacy International, told TechWeekEurope.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Canberra Times
Publication date: 
06-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Philip Dorling
Original story link: 

Research by Privacy International, an independent watchdog group focused on the proliferation of surveillance technology, has found more than 338 companies offering a total of 97 different technologies worldwide.

Selling such equipment is perfectly legal and these companies say the new technologies are part of the fabric of modern IT systems and help governments defeat terrorism and crime.

But human rights and privacy campaigners are concerned that oppressive regimes can use such technology to clamp down on critics and democracy advocates.

In the media
Publisher: 
Computer World
Publication date: 
04-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Hamish Barwick
Original story link: 

According to Privacy International, ASD acted in a manner that violates the laws of the Commonwealth and is contrary to guidelines given to the agency.

The group pointed out that the intelligence agency’s Rules to Protect the Privacy of Australians were released on 2 October 2012 and include the following guidelines:

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Delimiter
Publication date: 
04-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Renai LeMay
Original story link: 

Global privacy organisation Privacy International has filed a formal complaint with Australia’s Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security over a report that the Australian Signals Directorate had offered to hand over data on Australian citizens to foreign intelligence agencies.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Le Courrier
Publication date: 
02-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Kessava Packiry
Original story link: 

Faut-il associer l’exportation et la vente de logiciels espions à du matériel de guerre? Cette question, plusieurs parlementaires se la posent après avoir été alertés par Privacy International de la présence d’une antenne de Gamma International en Suisse. Gamma? Un groupe anglais, pointé du doigt par des organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) pour avoir vendu ses techniques de surveillance à des Etats ne respectant pas les droits de l’homme (Bahreïn notamment).

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

Last week, we learned that the National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of mobile phones where ever they are in the world. The report from of the Washington Post, shows the extraordinary scale and reach of the NSA programs that attempt to know everything about us including our location, at any time.

Unfortunately, a scaled down version of this system is also being sold by private surveillance contractors to the highest bidder. The company behind it? Israeli-American company Verint. Their Skylock technology claims to have the ability to "Remotely locate GSM and UMTS targets located anywhere in the world at cell level precision".

Blog
Alinda Vermeer's picture
What is the Wassenaar Arrangement?

The Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls for Conventional Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies (the "Wassenaar Arrangement") is a multilateral export control regime in which 41 states participate.

The Wassenaar Arrangement was established on 12 July 1996 in Wassenaar, the Netherlands by 33 founding members to contribute to regional and international security and stability. It is the successor to COCOM, a NATO based group that discussed arms exports to non-NATO states, though the membership today is a lot more broad.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture
Update:

After an initial discussion with technical and government experts involved in drafting and negotiating the new controls on “intrusion software”, some of our initial questions have been clarified. To read what they had to say, go here.


One of the major dangers of imposing export controls on surveillance systems is the risk of overreach. While you want the scope of the systems being controlled and the language to be wide enough to catch the targeted product and its variants, you also need the language to be specific and detailed enough to ensure that no items get inadvertently caught at the same time.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

Two new categories of surveillance systems were added into the dual-use goods and technologies control list of the Wassenaar Arrangement last week in Vienna, recognising for the first time the need to subject spying tools used by intelligence agencies and law enforcement to export controls.

While there are many questions that still need to be answered, Privacy International cautiously welcomes these additions to the Wassenaar Arrangement. Undoubtedly, these new controls don’t cover everything they could, but the recognition that something needs to be done at Wassenaar level is a foundation to build from.

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