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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: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
11-Oct-2013
Author(s): 
Ryan Gallagher
Original story link: 

"The only people who lose are users," says Eric King, head of research at human rights group Privacy International. "Skype promoted itself as a fantastic tool for secure communications around the world, but quickly caved to government pressure and can no longer be trusted to protect user privacy."

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
10-Oct-2013
Author(s): 
Nick Hopkins
Original story link: 

Eric King, head of research at Privacy International: "Our intelligence agencies carry out some of the most sensitive and legally complex work in the world. It is shameful that the agreements between the NSA and GCHQ are shrouded in secrecy and this practice must come to an end."

Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

As if those in Pakistan did not have enough to worry about when it came to the security of their communications, recent changes to Pakistan’s anti-terror law could see people convicted for terrorism solely on the basis of incriminating text messages, phone calls, or email.

As part of a drive to increase the number of convictions of terror suspects, the government of Pakistan has recently beefed up its anti-terror laws through a presidential ordinance that will permit prolonged detention of terror suspects and the expanded use of email and phone evidence in certain criminal trials. It is just another indication of Pakistan’s drift toward authoritarianism and the government’s total disregard for the human rights of their citizens.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
09-Oct-2013
Author(s): 
Nicholas Watt, Stuart Millar and Nick Hopkins
Original story link: 

Eric King, head of research at Privacy International, said: "Andrew Parker is right: the UK isn't East Germany. While the Stasi had files on one in three East Germans, the communications of almost everybody in the UK are being intercepted and stored as part of GCHQ's Tempora programme. Our security agencies' continued insistence that they are not prying, while every week new mass surveillance programmes are being revealed, is offensive to the public's intelligence."

Countries: 
Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an English version of an article in the September issue of Cuestión de Derechos, written by Privacy International's Head of International Advocacy, Carly Nyst.

To read the whole article (in Spanish), please go here.

The Chinese government installs software that monitors and censors certain anti-government websites. Journalists and human rights defenders from Bahrain to Morocco have their phones tapped and their emails read by security services. Facebook takes down wall posts after States complains of “subversive material”. Google hands over user data to law enforcement authorities that includes IP addresses, location data and records of communications. The US government conducts mass surveillance of foreign phone and internet users.

In the media
Publisher: 
Guardian
Publication date: 
07-Oct-2013
Author(s): 
Shaun Walker
Original story link: 

Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International, which also co-operated with the research, said: "Since 2008, more people are travelling with smartphones with far more data than back then, so there is more to spy on."

Countries: 
Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

Update: This week we received a response to our letters when we called on the President of the Swiss Confederation, Ueli Maurer, and the Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, to step into the debate and refuse the licence applications for surveillance technology that are currently awaiting approval for export out of Switzerland. While their offices themselves did not reply to us, it is clear our message got through as the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) wrote to us on their behalf.

In their letter, the SECO confirmed to us that the situation was not yet resolved, and a decision was still pending. We hope this is an indication the government is as concerned as we are as to how FinFisher is used by repressive states. Let’s hope this non-approval continues - we’ll be watching.

Opinion piece
Carly Nyst's picture

The following is an excerpt from a guest article which appeared on openDemocracy, written by Privacy International's Head of Advocacy, Carly Nyst:

Forget blood diamonds. There's a new resource being mined and exploited in the developing world: data.

As development actors adopt new technologies at a rapid rate, data is fast becoming the development community's favourite cure-all. For its proponents, data has the potential to accelerate economic growth, catalyse innovation, and revolutionise the provision of development and humanitarian aid. 

Yet, much like other conflict resources, the data for development movement poses serious risks to the liberties of the same individuals who will purportedly benefit from its exploitation. By facilitating the generation, collection or analysis of information that is about individuals, 'data for development' may be enabling surveillance in the most insidious way.

For the full piece, please go here.
In the media
Publisher: 
Radio Télévision Suisse
Publication date: 
01-Oct-2013
Original story link: 

"Monsieur le président, je vous écris une lettre..." chantait Boris Vian dans sa chanson antimilitariste de 1954. Le 26 septembre, c'est une ONG qui milite pour la défense des droits de l'homme qui écrit une lettre à Ueli Maurer, conseiller fédéral. Privacy International interpelle le ministre de la Défense pour lui demander de ne pas accorder de licence à la multinationale Gamma qui tente d'exporter ses logiciels espions depuis la Suisse. L'ONG l'accuse de travailler pour des régimes autoritaires et de violer ainsi les droits de l'homme.

Countries: 
Blog
Carly Nyst's picture

What a difference a few months, and some intelligence agency leaks, make.

In early June an important report warning of increasing State surveillance was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council. It was met with barely more than scant attention.  Days later, Edward Snowden’s leaks hit the front page of the Guardian, and woke the world up to how intelligence agencies in the US and UK are using questionable legal justifications to spy on their own citizens and the world.

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