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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 New Yorker
Publication date: 
12-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Joshua Kopstein
Original story link: 

The other week, Privacy International, a U.K.-based human-rights organization, filed a criminal complaint on Kersmo’s behalf, making him the first U.K. resident to challenge the use of hacking tools by a foreign power. “This case would be important to all refugees who end up in countries where they think they are safe,” Alinda Vermeer, a lawyer with Privacy International, who filed Kersmo’s complaint, told me in a phone interview. That sense of safety is illusory, she said, because countries armed with tools like FinSpy insure that refugees “can be spied on in an equally intrusive way as they were back at home.” Worse, the surveillance also reveals with whom the victims have been communicating, potentially endangering the lives of contacts and relatives still residing in their home country.

Blog
Emily Linnea Mahoney's picture

In the late eighteenth century in Germany, ‘anthropologist’ Johann Blumenbach published a degenerative hypothesis that linked cranium and facial profiles to supposed character traits and accordingly divided human beings into five different races: the Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American.1

In the 1870s, Alphonse Bertillon, a police officer in France, started a trend to identify criminals based on facial characteristics, alongside subsequent use of the camera to photograph and identify repeat offenders.

In the 1930s in Nazi Germany, IBM computer scientists devised an identification system in aid of the Third Reich’s attempt to systematically decimate entire populations.2

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

Private surveillance companies selling some of the most intrusive surveillance systems available today are in the business of purchasing security vulnerabilities of widely-used software, and bundling it together with their own intrusion products to provide their customers unprecedented access to a target’s computer and phone.

It's been known for some time that governments, usually at a pricey sum, purchase such exploits, known as zero- and one-day exploits, from security researchers to use for surveillance and espionage. While the focus has been on governments directly purchasing these exploits, it is equally important to highlight private surveillance firms role in the market of exploit sales.

In the media
Publisher: 
Voice of America
Publication date: 
20-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Peter Heinlein
Original story link: 

In another case, an Ethiopian refugee in London is asking British police to investigate evidence that FinSpy software known as “FinFisher” was used to hack his computer.

Tadesse Kersmo, who identified himself as a member of the executive committee of the Ethiopian opposition group Ginbot 7, filed a complaint Monday asking for a probe of Gamma Group, a Britain-based company that produces the FinFisher software.

Kersmo told a news conference he became suspicious after files from his computer began appearing on the Internet, and found evidence it had been infected with FinSpy.

In the media
Publisher: 
Radio Popolare
Publication date: 
04-Mar-2014
Original story link: 

Privacy International, one of the most respected and important organisations in the world that defend the right to privacy, wrote two letters including to the Minister and to President of Lombardy asking Roberto Maroni as to why they are financing Hacking Team.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
The Post Internazionale
Publication date: 
04-Mar-2014
Author(s): 
Anna Ditta
Original story link: 

Queste scoperte hanno suscitato a livello internazionale richieste di regolamentazione delle aziende che, come Hacking Team, producono software di sorveglianza. Da ultimo, l’associazione internazionale per la tutela del diritto alla riservatezza, Privacy International, ha inviato ieri una lettera al ministro per lo sviluppo economico, Federica Guidi, chiedendo che il governo italiano faccia chiarezza sull’azienda milanese e stabilisca un efficace sistema di licenze per l’esportazione di questi software. L’organizzazione ha scritto inoltre al presidente della regione Lombardia, Roberto Maroni, perché faccia chiarezza sui soldi che nel 2007 Hacking Team ha ricevuto - 1,5 milioni di euro forniti da due fondi di venture capital, uno dei quali è “Finlombarda Gestioni Sgr”, che ha un unico azionista, “Finlombarda SpA”, cioè la finanziaria per lo sviluppo della regione Lombardia.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Neue Zurcher Zeitung
Publication date: 
18-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Henning Steier
Original story link: 

Privacy International will die National Cybercrime Unit dazu bringen, eine Untersuchung im Fall Tadesse Kersmo einzuleiten. Der Äthiopier soll auch nach seiner Flucht nach Grossbritannien im Jahr 2009 mittels der einschlägig bekannten Spionagesoftware FinSpy des britisch-deutschen Anbieters Gamma Group abgehört worden sein. Wie die britische Bürgerrechtsorganisation in einer Medienmitteilung schreibt, verstösst das Abhören der Kommunikation durch einen ausländische Staat im Inland gegen diverse Gesetze.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Washington Post
Publication date: 
18-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Craig Timberg
Original story link: 

Privacy International, an advocacy group based in Britain, filed a criminal complaint there Monday urging an investigation of the alleged use of FinSpy against an Ethio­pian political refu­gee based in the United Kingdom.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
27-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Matthew Taylor
Original story link: 

Carly Nyst, Privacy International's legal director, said the revelation underlined the importance of democratic societies being able to limit the activities of intelligence agencies.

"Today we've found out that the way we now use technology to stay in touch with friends, family and loved ones means many of our most private thoughts and experiences are available for viewing by GCHQ. How can collecting and storing these intimate moments possibly help protect national security?

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

Ora, però, a muoversi è una delle più importanti e rispettate organizzazioni del mondo per la difesa della privacy. Si chiama “Privacy International” (PI), appunto, e ha sede a Londra. PI ha appena inviato una lettera al ministro Federica Guidi, a capo dello Sviluppo economico del governo Renzi, e al presidente della regione Lombardia, Roberto Maroni, per chiedere spiegazioni sull'azienda milanese (la lettera è disponibile qui).

Countries: 

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