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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
Mike Rispoli's picture

The reforms announced today, while positive in some respects, are completely inadequate to address the heart of the problem. Privacy International welcomes steps to minimise the data collected and retained on non-Americans, and the call to increase transparency around requests made to communications service providers. However, in the face of mass surveillance, unaccountable intelligence sharing, arbitrary expansions of the definition of ’national security’, and debased encryption standards, all of which fundamentally threaten the very fabric of American democratic institutions, the Obama administration has chosen to pursue reforms that serve only to tinker around the edges a grave and endemic problem. 
 

In the media
Publisher: 
GigaOm
Publication date: 
09-Jan-2014
Author(s): 
David Meyer
Original story link: 

Privacy International Legal Office Caroline Wilson Palow offered this by way of comment:  “It is clear that mass surveillance programs like Tempora have a disproportionate impact on those who live outside the country, since foreigners’ phone calls, emails, or internet searches currently receive even fewer legal protections than the communications of those who reside in the UK. It is wrong and we argue illegal for the UK to discriminate without any reasonable basis between UK and non-UK nationals when spying on their communications.

In the media
Publisher: 
Wired UK
Publication date: 
09-Jan-2014
Author(s): 
Liat Clark
Original story link: 

"Every country owes the same obligation to each individual whose communications pass through their territory: not to interfere with those communications, subject to permissible limitations established by law," Privacy International commented in a separate statement. "People who have had their communications intercepted, no matter their location or nationality, should be able to object to that interference in the courts and tribunals of the country that carried out the interception."

In the media
Publisher: 
South China Morning Post
Publication date: 
19-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Bien Perez
Original story link: 

The other signatories to the letter to the OGP, included: Privacy International, the Global Network Initiative, Oxfam International, the Centre for Law and Democracy, Indian political and social activist Aruna Roy, former journalist and Global Voices Online founder Rebecca MacKinnon, and Hong Kong In-Media.

In the media
Publisher: 
The Guardian
Publication date: 
19-Dec-2013
Author(s): 
Alex Hern
Original story link: 

The organisations that have signed up include Oxfam, Privacy International and the Open Rights Group, and the individuals include Satbir Singh of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Indian social activist Aruna Roy.

In the media
Publisher: 
Danish Broadcasting Corporation
Publication date: 
07-Jan-2014
Original story link: 

Privacy International's Edin Omanovic speaks with the Danish Broadcasting Association at Milipol 2013.

Blog
Edin Omanovic's picture

UK parliamentary select committees are charged with overseeing the work of government in relation to particular topical issues or the work of particular departments. When it comes to UK Government policy on arms, it’s the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) that's responsible: a conglomeration of four select committees made up of serving Members of Parliament that collects evidence and conducts an inquiry into developments in export control policy and the preceding years’ exports of military and dual-use goods.

One of the most valuable aspects of the committees' work is the fact that it provides an avenue for other stakeholders such as civil society, industry, academia, and the general public to provide evidence and influence government policy. For over a year, Privacy International has been engaging the committees highlighting the proliferation of commercial surveillance companies in the UK and the urgent need for action to regulate their activities. Our written evidence to the committees has just been published, which you can find here.

Blog
Caroline Wilson Palow's picture

Privacy International's partner organisation, Bytes for All, has filed a complaint against the Government, decrying the human rights violations inherent in such extensive surveillance and demonstrating how the UK's mass surveillance operations and its policies have a disproportionate impact on those who live outside the country.

Bytes for All, a Pakistan-based human rights organization, filed its complaint in the UK Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT), the same venue in which Privacy International lodged a similar complaint last July.

Blog
Anna Crowe's picture

The following piece originally appeared on Linda Raftree's "Wait...What" blog, a site focusing on bridging community development and technology.

New technologies hold great potential for the developing world, and countless development scholars and practitioners have sung the praises of technology in accelerating development, reducing poverty, spurring innovation and improving accountability and transparency.

Worryingly, however, privacy is presented as a luxury that creates barriers to development, rather than a key aspect to sustainable development. This perspective needs to change.

Blog
Alexandrine Pirlot's picture

New technologies may hold great benefits for the developing world, but without strong legal frameworks ensuring that rights are adequately protected, they pose serious threats to populations they are supposed to empower.

This is never more evident than with the rapid and widespread implementation of biometric technology. Whilst concerns and challenges are seen in both developed and developing countries when it comes to biometrics, for the latter they are more acute due the absence of laws or flawed legal frameworks, which are failing to uphold and ensure the protection of basic human rights.

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