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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

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

“Open government” – the push for greater transparency, accountability and innovation from governments – is an idea that has gained increasing traction in recent years, as the potential for new technologies to enhance democracy is being realised.

But making government more open and responsive should not mean compromising on privacy and data protection. The Open Government Guide outlines steps governments can take towards more open government and Privacy International has written a draft chapter on privacy for the Guide, which is now open for comment.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

Political activist and university lecturer Tadesse Kersmo believed that he was free from intrusive surveillance when he was granted political asylum in the UK. Instead, he was likely subject to more surveillance than ever. His case underlines the borderless nature of advanced surveillance technologies and why it represents such a massive problem.

In the past, those fleeing conflict or persecution could reasonably expect a degree of respite if they managed to escape their circumstances. However, the nature of modern surveillance and its ability to facilitate oppression has changed this. When it comes to surveillance, familiar concepts of borders and nation states are becoming increasingly irrelevant. For refugees, this has grave implications.

Blog
Dr Richard Tynan's picture

In the ongoing story about the possible surveillance of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission in Ireland, a number of new details have emerged from Verrimus, the security consultancy agency tasked with investigating the spying. A recent Irish Independent report levelled a number of criticisms at Verrimus, saying that Verrimus in fact detected their own UK phones during their sweep and that they erroneously claimed this to be evidence of a UK IMSI Catcher.

In response to the Independent’s claims, Verrimus stated:

Blog
Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

Post updated on 14 April to reflect response from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Would you like to read the current international agreements establishing the intelligence sharing arrangements that underpin the work of the NSA and GCHQ? The rules that govern massive, coordinated communications surveillance operations, hacking, and the exploitation of networks and devices in the name of national security and the public interest?

What about the guidelines that set the boundaries of what certain cooperating intelligence agencies can and cannot do to the citizens of their own countries, and to foreigners?

Well, you can’t.

Blog
Alinda Vermeer's picture

After suffering years of persistent harassment, violence, and surveillance at the hands of his oppressive government, Tadesse Kersmo had enough. Tired of living under constant monitoring, Tadesse and his wife escaped Ethiopia, where they had been politically active for years, and were granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 2009.

It was only a few years later that they discovered that this escape was an illusion, and that they had been followed from Ethiopia to England. He may have left his country, but Tadesse was still a target.

He wasn’t followed physically, however - the surveillance was much more clandestine. Tadesse appears to have been tracked through his computer via a Trojan that is part of a commercial intrusion kit called FinFisher.

Press release

Privacy International today has made a criminal complaint1 to the National Cyber Crime Unit of the National Crime Agency urging them to investigate the potentially unlawful interception of the communications of an Ethiopian political refugee living in the UK, as well as the role a British company played in developing and exporting invasive

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

This post, written by Privacy International Research Officer Anna Crowe, originally appeared on the New Zealand Human Rights Blog, a website dedicated to discussion and debate on issues relating to Human Rights in New Zealand and around the world.


While domestic debates around the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) have focused on its role in spying on New Zealanders, more questions need to be asked about its involvement in mass surveillance of the electronic communications of people living outside New Zealand. Now the European Parliament, a body directly elected by the citizens of the 28 countries of the European Union (EU), is taking New Zealand to task for spying on Europeans’ communications.

Blog
Dr Richard Tynan's picture

The recent revelations surrounding the bugging of the Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) has raised a number of important questions about the use of surveillance technologies in Ireland, including whether fake base stations were deployed in order to monitor mobile networks near GSOC's office.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Telegraph
Publication date: 
11-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Matthew Sparkes
Original story link: 

Today there are also live demonstrations planned in Denmark, Stockholm and the US. In London this evening there will be an event including lectures on how to improve your online security as well as the launch of a campaign called Don’t Spy on Us, backed by Liberty and Privacy International, which calls for an inquiry into mass surveillance in the UK.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
11-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Alex Hern
Original story link: 

In the UK, the protest was launched at 11:30 with a thunderclap, a mass call on social media for wider opposition to spying. That opening strike was supported by users including Owen Jones, Graham Linehan, and Tom Watson MP, and was organised in co-operation with a range of civil liberties organisations including Liberty, English PEN, Privacy International, Article 19 and Big Brother Watch.

Countries: 

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