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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: 
Muktware
Publication date: 
26-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Sahil Kalloli
Original story link: 

According to Dr. Richard Tynan, technologist with Privacy International, “…without the ability of the security community to examine the baseband software of the new Ubuntu Phone, the open-source nature of the remaining element may provide no more assurances than other open-source phone operating systems such as Android.”

Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

Surveillance companies selling mass and intrusive spy technologies to human rights-abusing governments often are benefitting from the financial and institutional support from their home government, revealing a more closely-linked relationship between the sector and the State than previously believed.

Recent revelations concerning the funding of Hacking Team's surveillance technology with public money highlights the role of states in funding the development of surveillance technologies and companies. This discovery was preceded by the discovery that the South African Government funded the development of the mass surveillance system Zebra, made by VASTech. And with State supporting of national business abroad, including the UK promoting cyber-security exports, we are seeing a variety of ways the state is enabling the commercial surveillance market.

In the media
Publisher: 
Deutsche Welle
Publication date: 
25-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Ben Knight
Original story link: 

"This story is pretty frightening," Privacy International spokesman Mike Rispoli told DW. "It's extremely remarkable just from a technical standpoint that they have it." On top of this, given that MYSTIC was launched in 2009 and according to the Post "reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011," we can only guess at the program's reach and power now. "This is news from a few years ago," Rispoli pointed out. "We don't know where they're at right now in terms of capacity."

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Middle East Monitor
Publication date: 
25-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Alastair Sloan
Original story link: 

Campaign groups such as Privacy International and Amnesty International are currently outspoken in their criticism of lax export controls on IT intrusion software, having expressed their concerns to Parliament repeatedly.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

The market for surveillance technologies has expanded so much in recent years that oversight has been totally unable to keep up, which has led to devastating consequences in the lives of human rights defenders in repressive regimes around the world.

According to a new study released today by Privacy International, the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, and Digitale Gesellschaft, international efforts to oversee the trade in surveillance technologies are out-dated and urgently need to be updated in order to keep up in the digital age. Ensuring that export regulations are fit for purpose is a vital part of an overall strategy to ensure the surveillance industry does not continue to trample upon human rights and facilitate internal repression.

In the media
Publisher: 
L'Espresso
Publication date: 
25-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Stefania Maurizi
Original story link: 

Neanche un mese fa “l'Espresso” aveva rivelato che “Privacy International” , una delle più rispettate organizzazioni internazionali per la difesa della privacy, aveva scritto al governo italiano per chiedere spiegazioni sulla Hacking Team, dopo che l'azienda era finita sulle cronache internazionali perché il suo trojan aveva preso di mira attivisti e giornalisti di paesi noti per la repressione politica.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Network World
Publication date: 
24-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Bryan Lunduke
Original story link: 

Richard Tynan, writing for PrivacyInternational.org, recently pointed out that the baseband – the firmware in a cellphone that does the actual "communicate with the cellular network" side of things – in Ubuntu-powered phones will remain closed source (and highly proprietary). ... This is, to say the least, a bummer. And Richard Tynan makes the point that this is a missed opportunity for Canonical to have required an Open Source baseband on the phones that ship with Ubuntu.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Hill
Publication date: 
24-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Kate Tummarello and Julian Hattem
Original story link: 

Democratic governments could impose limits on the exports of surveillance technology to prevent the tools from being used to suppress the media and violate human rights, according to a new report. The analysis from the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Britain’s Privacy International and Germany’s Digitale Gesellschaft found that existing export control regulations are out of date and unsuited for modern technology.

Blog
Dr Richard Tynan's picture

For some time, many in the privacy and security community hoped for a completely open-source mobile phone, one that would allow for code to be examined and strengthened to prevent malicious attacks to a user's privacy.

So when Canonical, the company that primarily funds Ubuntu GNU/Linux, announced it was entering the mobile phone market, we were among the many who hailed this development. Given the company's track record, it was believed that the open-source philosophy of Ubuntu would carry through to their mobile phone version. In light of what we now know about the fallibility of mobile phones, which can enable highly invasive and mass surveillance, the need for this kind of phone has only increased recently.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

UPDATE: The past few days have seen more movement in Switzerland. The Swiss Secretariat for Economic Affairs responded swiftly to our request for official clarification. The SECO confirmed to PI that "all licence requests for the export of technologies for internet monitoring were withdrawn" by the applicants themselves, and that some of the requests for mobile phone monitoring technology have also been withdrawn.

A further follow-up by Swiss media has revealed that the Government has now approved four licences for mobile phone monitoring technologies, which would be largely destined for countries that have been supplied comparable goods since 2010. Speaking with the media, the Swiss Government said they did take human rights concerns into account, but viewed that the risk for misuse was low for these particular exports.

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