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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

In the media
Publisher: 
Wired
Publication date: 
22-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Carola Frediani
Original story link: 

“ L'approvazione della risoluzione non provocherà delle azioni concrete immediate, ma dal punto di vista normativo sarà una dichiarazione di principio forte, aiutando il fronte di chi combatte la sorveglianza globale. Inoltre permetterà di capire, anche a livello di singoli Stati, chi è disposto a sostenere gli Stati Uniti sulla strada del controllo di massa e chi invece si oppone”, commenta a Wired.it Carly Nyst di Privacy International. “Certo gli Usa e la Gran Bretagna hanno cercato di modificare il linguaggio, ma non sono riusciti veramente a cambiare il senso della risoluzione: ad esempio volevano far togliere i riferimenti alla sorveglianza “extraterritoriale”, che invece sono rimasti”.

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

Let's be clear: private surveillance companies are not just selling a product. Companies do not merely pack their product into a box and put it in the post. More often than not, surveillance firms sell a consultancy service, one that actively provides pre-sale consultancy, installation of the product, and training on how to operate the technology. When the product breaks, companies often provide ongoing technical support, with some companies sending over of consultants for up to 18 months to provide in-depth support to agencies. A number of companies also operate 24/7 support lines for agencies to contact with their queries.

The consultancy services provided must not be overlooked. Indeed, it is just as dangerous as the technology itself and increases the level of complicity in the perpetration of human rights abuses between Western surveillance companies and the regimes that make up their customer base.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

Privacy International is proud to announce our new project, Eyes Wide Open, which aims to pry open the Five Eyes arrangement and bring it under the rule of law. Read our Special Report "Eyes Wide Open" and learn more about the project below.

For almost 70 years, a secret post-war alliance of five English-speaking countries has been building a global surveillance infrastructure to “master the internet” and spy on the worlds communications. This arrangement binds together the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to create what’s collectively known as the Five Eyes.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

With the launch of the "Eyes Wide Open" project, Privacy International has put together a fact sheet about the secretive Five Eyes alliance. Consider this a guide to the secret surveillance alliance that has infiltrated every aspect of the modern global communications system.

• Beginning in 1946, an alliance of five English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) developed a series of bilateral agreements over more than a decade that became known as the UKUSA agreement, establishing the Five Eyes alliance for the purpose of sharing intelligence, primarily signals intelligence (SIGINT).

• While almost 70 years old, the arrangement is so secretive that the Australian prime minister reportedly wasn’t informed of its existence until 1973 and no government officially acknowledged the arrangement by name until 1999.

Blog
Sam Smith's picture

For nearly 30 years, the UK's wiretapping laws have been the subject of annual reports. Since 2002, they are available around the web (for now), but earlier than that, it is a rabbit warren of possible locations.

In practice, the reports are solely available from the Parliamentary Archives if and only if you are a member of an institution which has paid for access. Requesting a copy from elsewhere sends you to this destination.

The current Interception of Communications Commissioner didn't particularly want them on his website, as many agencies are (and were for years) paranoid about people knowing how many warrants are in use at any one time. As much as we disagree with his opinion that a historical representation of oversight isn't important, we disagree more with his belief current oversight is effective.

So when the Government claims that these reports provide public evidence of transparency and oversight, those claims are meaningless if the historical reports can not be read.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
22-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
Original story link: 

Privacy International said it had long suspected that members of Five Eyes have been playing "a game of jurisdictional arbitrage to sidestep domestic laws governing interception and collection of data".

"Secret agreements such as these must be placed under the microscope to ensure they are adequately protecting the rights of British citizens," said Eric King, the group's head of research.

"The British government has repeatedly insisted that appropriate warrants were in place in all instances of international intelligence collaboration. We now know this isn't the whole truth. Trust must be restored, and our intelligence agencies must be brought under the rule of law. Transparency around an accountability for these secret agreements is a crucial first step."

In the media
Publisher: 
The Washington Post
Publication date: 
22-Nov-2013
Original story link: 

The five rights groups — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access and Privacy International — said this provision will ensure that the issue stays on the front burner at the United Nations.

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a blog post that originally was published by EJIL: Talk!, and is written by Carly Nyst, Head of International Advocacy at Privacy International:

The recent revelations of global surveillance practices have prompted a fundamental re-examination of the role and responsibility of States with respect to cross-border surveillance. The patchwork of secret spying programmes and intelligence-sharing agreements implemented by parties to the Five Eyes arrangement (the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) constitutes an integrated global surveillance arrangement that covers the majority of the world’s communications.

In the media
Publisher: 
Forbes
Publication date: 
21-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Runa Sandvik
Original story link: 

Privacy International has released a collection of 1,203 documents on the private surveillance sector, detailing mass surveillance technologies capable of covertly collecting millions of emails, text messages, and phone calls on citizens around the world. The documents mention two companies known for selling Internet monitoring technology and unpublished software vulnerabilities to the U.S. National Security Agency.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Verge
Publication date: 
20-Nov-2013
Author(s): 
Jacob Kastrenakes
Original story link: 

Advocacy group Privacy International has put together an extensive report on the powerful surveillance technologies being sold by private companies. The findings, it says, are "downright scary" and show that private companies are capable of acquiring spying tools just as capable as what the NSA and GCHQ are using. The details have all been collected in a database called the Surveillance Industry Index, which details the offerings of over 300 companies from across the globe. Some of the technologies being sold include a Trojan that can turn on a webcam and capture photos, software for eavesdropping, and tools that can wiretap undersea cables.

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