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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: 
BBC
Publication date: 
05-Feb-2014
Original story link: 

Campaign group Privacy International is also worried.

"There is no legislation that clearly authorises GCHQ to conduct cyber-attacks," said head of research Eric King.

"So, in the absence of any democratic mechanisms, it appears GCHQ has granted itself the power to carry out the very same offensive attacks politicians have criticised other states for conducting."

Countries: 
Blog
Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

The current legal framework governing intelligence activities in the UK is unfit for purpose in the modern digital era, and reform is urgently needed.

With this in mind, today Privacy International responded to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s call for evidence, addressing the question, “Whether the legal framework which governs the security and intelligence agencies’ access to the content of private communications is ‘fit for purpose’, given the developments in information technology since they were enacted.”

While we welcome scrutiny of the UK’s legal framework, we do have concerns about the process. In a separate letter sent to the ISC, Privacy International along with Big Brother Watch and Liberty called on Parliament to establish a full and independent inquiry, given the deeply flawed nature of this present investigation.

In the media
Publisher: 
BBC
Publication date: 
04-Feb-2014
Author(s): 
Leo Kelion
Original story link: 

"Transparency reports for a long time were really insightful tools for us to see what governments were asking the tech companies," Privacy International's Mike Rispoli told the BBC.

"Now we know that the game has changed.

"Governments do not need to go to companies to get user data - they can directly intercept it. They do not need to go through the front door anymore, they have kicked down the back door."

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

While revelations about NSA mass surveillance dominated the news in late 2013, a less well-publicised scandal was engulfing the Australian intelligence services, which had just raided the offices of a lawyer representing the small nation of East Timor in an international case against Australia.

The case concerns allegations that Australia spied on East Timor’s cabinet during sensitive commercial negotiations over oil and gas revenues. If true, this was spying on the basis of greed, to exploit the unequal relationship between Australia, a rich, developed country, and East Timor, a newly established state emerging from decades of violence and oppression.

The case exposes shocking conduct by Australia – a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement - and aptly illustrates the need to reign in intelligence services to bring them within the international rule of law.

Blog
Kenneth Page's picture

Over the past half year, Privacy International has been investigating the sale of surveillance technology made by South African company VASTech to Libya and what role the government had in promoting and developing the system. Unfortunately, the government has been slow to respond to our questions and has offered only vague answers. This has done little to ease our concerns about the part they played in the development and export of mass surveillance technology to a military regime with a history of internal repression and human rights abuses.

Blog
Matthew Rice's picture

The latest Snowden document revelation, which shows how GCHQ and the NSA are conducting broad, real-time monitoring of YouTube, Facebook, and Blogger using a program called "Squeaky Dolphin," is the most recent demonstration of the immense interception capabilities of intelligence services.

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

"The anti-Snowden discourse is no more than a reflection of the perverse attachment to secrecy and obfuscation that dominates intelligence agencies and undermines the fundamental principles of transparency and accountability," Carly Nyst, legal director at Privacy International, told DW in an email.

"Given the public uproar over the mass surveillance programs revealed by Snowden, discussions such as these are blatant attempts by authorities to deflect attention away from themselves and their illegal spying operations," she added.

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
Democratic Audit Uk
Publication date: 
14-Jan-2014
Original story link: 

Caroline Wilson Palow, Legal Officer, Privacy International said:

"Despite recent attempts by the UK Government to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee through the Justice and Security Act 2013, the continuing Snowden revelations show how feeble UK oversight actually is. It is now widely acknowledged that the ISC’s weaknesses have resulted in an almost ‘siloed’ body with little transference of knowledge or expertise from a core group of representatives to the wider Parliament, much less the public. This in turn leads to a severe lack of accountability, transparency, and ultimately a breakdown in trust – both of the oversight mechanism and of the agencies themselves. But it does not have to be this way.

The ISC’s unwavering defence of the intelligence agencies’ actions is in contrast to the reaction of the similar bodies in the US. While far from perfect, the US response to the Snowden revelations has resulted in a more robust debate about the powers of the intelligence services than we have thus far seen in the UK. Congress and the US courts have placed significant pressure on the US executive and intelligence services to acknowledge the Snowden revelations and reveal additional details regarding the decision-making process that led to such potential abuses of power. That pressure has resulted in much more transparency, which in turn has led to substantive discussions regarding reform. The ISC should take notes."

Countries: 
In the media
Publisher: 
SciDev Net
Publication date: 
17-Jan-2014
Author(s): 
Pete Guest
Original story link: 

Edin Omanovic, a surveillance technology specialist at Privacy International, says that the expansion of the control list represents progress, but that more work needs to be done to curtail access to such technologies.

“We have to think of ways for [governments] to enforce the controls,” he says. “It’s always going to be the case that some of these technologies are intangible and very easy to export, which presents unique enforcement challenges that conventional arms don’t.”

In the media
Publisher: 
IT News
Publication date: 
15-Jan-2014
Author(s): 
Darren Pauli
Original story link: 

But London officials close to the WA changes told Privacy International researcher Edin Omanovic it was the intention of WA participants to focus on tools such as the German made FinFisher spy tool to restrict only platforms marketed and used by law enforcement and governments for lawful interception.

"Discussions between Privacy International and export control officials involved in drafting the new controls suggest that it was never the intention of these new controls to catch legitimate security research tools and that efforts have been made to prevent them from being subject to controls," Omanovic said.

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