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.
Lawyers for the group Privacy International, whose mission is to defend the right to privacy, have written to the chief executives of the telecoms companies identified last week by the German paper Süddeutsche and the Guardian as collaborating in GCHQ's Tempora program.
Some of the world's largest telecommunication companies are facing legal action for colluding with British spy agency GCHQ and failing to protect customers' privacy rights, Privacy International said in a letter issued to the cable providers.
For some time now there has been a need to update understandings of existing human rights law to reflect modern surveillance technologies and techniques. Nothing could demonstrate the urgency of this situation more than the recentrevelations confirming the mass surveillance of innocent individuals around the world.
"If their motivation is to catch terrorists, then are there less intrusive methods than spying on everyone whose traffic happens to transverse the U.K.?" said Eric King, head of research at Privacy International.
Privacy International recently submitted a legal challenge calling on the suspension of Britain’s use of information from the National Security’s Agency Prism programme, and from the Tempora programme of surveillance of emails, phone calls and Skype conversations.
Eric King with the London-based human rights organization Privacy International said today’s finding “wasn’t surprising.” He said Parliament has become too friendly with the intelligence agencies they’re meant to be investigating.
Following reports that the Mexican prosecution authority appears to be not only using FinFisher, but also to be involved in a corruption scandal surrounding the purchase of this intrusive surveillance technology, the Mexican Permanent Commission (composed of members of the Mexican Senate and Congress) has urged Mexico's Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection (IFAI) to investigate the use of spyware in Mexico.
The practice is being challenged by Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group, Liberty, Privacy International, Index on Censorship, English PEN and Article 19. They have written to Keith Vaz, chair of the select committee, raising their concerns.
Lawyers acting for the UK charity Privacy International say the programme is not necessary or proportionate. They say the laws being used to justify mass data trawling are being abused by intelligence officials and ministers, and need to be urgently reviewed.
Privacy International has submitted a claim to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), which is supposed to review all complaints about the conduct of Britain's spy agencies. The organisation hopes for a public hearing and early rulings because of the seriousness of the situation.